South Korean President Park Geun-hye was to hold a summit with Southeast Asian leaders Wednesday that is expected to focus on bolstering economic ties h asingly important region of vibrant economies with high growth potential.
Park arrived in Brunei on Tuesday for a trio of annual meetings: a summit with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); a meeting between ASEAN and its three Northeast Asian dialogue partners -- South Korea, China and Japan; and a meeting of the East Asia Summit (EAS) forum.
Park plans to use the summit with ASEAN, set for Wednesday afternoon, to express her commitment to bolstering economic and other types of cooperation with one of the world's fastest-growing regions and to build personal bonds with its leaders, officials said.
ASEAN has emerged as an increasingly important region to South Korea, with a combined population of 600 million, with its GDP totaling about US$2.3 trillion. The region is South Korea's No. 1 investment destination and its second-largest trade partner, with two-way trade amounting to $131 billion last year.
The region is also the second-largest construction market for South Korea, with last year's construction orders from the region totaling $11 billion.
The two sides have made strides in their ties in recent years. They established the Korea-ASEAN Center in Seoul in 2009, forged a free trade agreement later that year and upgraded their relations to a strategic partnership in 2010. South Korea also opened a diplomatic mission to exclusively handle relations with ASEAN last year.
On the sidelines, Park was to hold four bilateral summits, beginning one with Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. It was expected to center on enhancing resources and energy cooperation with the oil-rich nation.
She was to also meet bilaterally with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Myanmar President Thein Sein.
Brunei is the second stop in Park's two-nation trip to Southeast Asia. She earlier visited Indonesia's resort island of Bali for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. After Brunei, Park is scheduled to return to Indonesia for a state visit in Jakarta later this week.
Park has termed the visit to Southeast Asia as her second "sales diplomacy" trip aimed at bolstering South Korea's economic and business interests. Last month, she made a similar business-oriented visit to Vietnam and agreed to conclude bilateral free trade talks next year. She also agreed to cooperate closely with Vietnam's plan to build nuclear power plants.