June 12, 2008 — While much attention is devoted to Korea’s relations with the U.S. and its neighbors China and Japan, Korea’s interaction with Southeast Asia receives little attention from scholars and policymakers. The popularity of Korean television dramas and stars (termed hallyu, or “Korean wave”) in the region has been widely celebrated, but other more challenging aspects of the relationship have largely been overlooked. For this reason The Asia Foundation’s Korea Office organized an international conference in Seoul, March 20-21, to focus attention on Korea-Southeast Asia relations, encourage Southeast Asian studies in Korea, and facilitate interaction between Korean and regional scholars.
The conference – supported by grants from the Pacific Century Institute, the Korea Foundation, and the Friends of The Asia Foundation in Korea – covered issues such as security, commercial ties, development cooperation, migrant workers, international marriage, tourism, and a fresh look at the hallyu phenomenon. Participants concluded Korea has a major leadership role to play in promoting peace and prosperity in the region, but this can only be achieved by building relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN and a trustee of The Asia Foundation, (see front page story) reinforced this theme in his keynote address. The papers presented at the conference will be published later this year in a volume edited by David Steinberg, Distinguished Professor at Georgetown University and former Asia Foundation Representative in Korea.