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News Focus I
Meeting of Korea and Australia, the ‘Middle Powers’

First Korea-Australia Leaders Forum
Kim Tae-hwan
Director, Policy and Research Department
The first Korea-Australia Leaders Forum, designed to foster bilateral cooperation through in-depth discussion of relevant matters and personal interaction between key figures from Korea and Australia, was recently held in Canberra, Australia.

The first Korea-Australia Leaders Forum was held in Canberra, the capital of Australia, on October 14-15. With sponsorship support from the Korea Foundation, the forum was organized by Korea’sEast Asia Institute, headed by Lee Sook-jong, and Australian National University (ANU), headed by Ian Chubb. Based on a theme of “Partnership for Prosperity,” the discussion sessions focused on bilateral relations in regard to foreign policy, regional security and cooperation, trade and business activities.

Foreign Policy Direction
Korea and Australia are pursuing remarkably similar goals and directions in their foreign policy efforts. Australia’s new Labor government, which came to power in late 2007, has implemented a foreign policy initiative based on three pivotal elements: priority on its alliance with the U.S., strengthening of multilateral cooperation through the U.N., and comprehensive cooperation with the Asia-Pacific region. As such, this approach is consistent with the key foreign policy priorities being pursued by Korea as well.
Professor Kim Byung-kuk, who presented Korea’sforeign policy strategy, noted that it would be a misperception to believe that the new government of Korea has adopted a so-called “Anything but Roh” attitude, which automatically rejects the policy measures of the previous Roh administration. He emphasized the practical aspects of the new Korean administration’s foreign policy, including relations with North Korea, which do not drastically deviate from the former government’s approach. The common priorities of the foreign policy efforts of the two countries clearly provide a vital foundation to bolster cooperation between Korea and Australia, in this regard. Accordingly, the participants from both sides discussed specific proposals to cooperate more closely on various pending with a focus on the North Korean situation, the Asia-Pacific region, and global concerns, such as climate change, anti-terrorism, and arms reduction.

Emergence of China
As for the discussion on regional cooperation, considerable attention was focused on the emergence of China, and its implications. It was pointed out that the rise of China, erosion of U.S. influence, and beneath-the-surface tension and confrontation between China and the U.S., might well create an uncomfortable situation for Korea and Australia, which both place a priority on their alliance with the U.S. and also enjoy growing economic relations with China. Of course, there are positive and negative factors resulted from China’s emergence.
However, it was emphasized that Korea and Australia need to cooperate with each other to convince the U.S. that it should acknowledge the rise of China and to accept this as a component of the new regional order, with a forward-looking perspective. In doing so, Korea and Australia might prevent a possible dilemma, in which Korea and Australia could end up being forced to choose between China and the U.S. The participants agreed that Korea and Australia, as two so-called “middle powers,” need to fully cooperate at the regional and global levels, based on their similar economic scale and national power, and their sharing of political systems and economic values (democracy and free-market principles).

Economic Complementarity
The two countries have developed close economic relations thanks to an advantageous complementarity of their economic systems. The participants engaged in lively discussion over the need to promote a “new complementarity,” in order to further expand and diversify bilateral economic cooperation in additional sectors. Korea is the fourth-largest trading partner of Australia, while Australia is the eighth-ranked trading partner of Korea. Especially, Korea depends on Australia for one-third of its overall supply of mineral resources. Following China and Japan, Korea is the third-largest market for Australia’s energy and resource exports.
Korea mainly imports primary-industry items from Australia, such as beef and agricultural products, while Australia imports secondary-industry products, like automobiles and mobile phones. The participants from the two countries noted that Korea and Australia should expand their cooperation to the service industry sector, including finance, tourism, and education, as well as the development of infrastructure, to promote a new complementarity, rather than simply being content with the existing trade structure.
Prior to my participation in the forum, I only generally understood the importance of the relations between our two countries. The Korea-Australia Leaders Forum, however, provided me with a valuable opportunity to more clearly understand and appreciate the significance of cooperative relations between our two countries, from a strategic viewpoint. Korea’s awareness of Australia’strue importance is still at a relatively low level. To many Koreans, Australia is seen as an alternative destination, following North America or Europe, to study or for their children’s education, sightseeing tourism, or possibly immigration, among middle-class individuals.
Based on my observations, I found out that Australia’s awareness of Korea was not yet at a high level, either. Although its population is less than half that of Korea’s population, Australia’s vast territory extends over an area about 35 times larger than the Korean Peninsula. I strongly sensed the many opportunities that could be pursued in this huge country. Australia offers a wide variety of possibilities for the Korea Foundation’s programs, including the promotion of Korean Studies as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
The Korea-Australia Leaders Forum is designed to contribute to a deepening of bilateral relations by building personal networks between the leaders of both countries. In terms of its social impact, the importance of personal networks cannot be overemphasized, while continuity is crucial to optimize the mutual benefits. It is important for this forum to take firm root as an ongoing initiative, rather than just a one-time event. In this sense, I eagerly look forward to the second Korea-Australia Leaders Forum, to be held next year.

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