Korea Chair Explains - The ROK-EU leaders’ video conference meeting: making practical cooperation materialise


By Ramon Pacheco Pardo

South Korea and the EU held a video conference meeting involving South Korean president Moon Jae-in, European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The meeting was held to highlight the importance of the bilateral relationship as both sides celebrate the tenth anniversary of their strategic partnership. It will be followed by their tenth bilateral summit, to be held in Seoul as soon as conditions allow. The meeting was seen by both sides as a way to move towards making practical cooperation materialise. Both South Korea and the EU believe that there are areas for specific cooperation they can work on. The COVID-19 pandemic has served to highlight this.

What was the purpose of the meeting?

A key purpose of the meeting was to showcase that South Korea and the EU see great potential in practical cooperation between both of them. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been engaged in a review of areas of concrete cooperation for months. The European External Action Service as well. Furthermore, in the case of the EU the von der Leyen Commission is prioritising cooperation with so-called ‘like-minded partners’ in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea is top of the list among these partners.

In addition, the meeting was held to convey the sense of urgency that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in terms of promoting international cooperation. Both South Korea and the EU believe that multilateralism is being challenged by the pandemic, which has accelerated US-China rivalry – in itself a stumbling block to international cooperation. For both Seoul and Brussels, multilateralism is a key pillar underpinning their respective foreign policies. This meeting served to emphasise South Korea’s and the EU’s commitment to international cooperation.

What were the main outcomes?

The main outcome of the meeting was a better understanding of each other’s strategies in dealing with COVID-19, as well as an agreement to strengthen health and economic resilience in the face of the pandemic. This includes cooperation with and through the World Health Organisation, bilateral coordination between their respective medicine and infectious diseases agencies, cooperation to develop vaccines and medicines to address this and future outbreaks, and coordination of economic measures to deal with the economic fallout of the vaccine. On this last point, both South Korea and the EU want to implement economic recovery programmes that put green industries at the centre. They believe that there is scope for joint projects, technology sharing and other measures to boost economic cooperation.

Another important outcome of the meeting was Seoul’s and Brussels’ commitment to support international institutions and agreements, most notably the World Trade Organisation and the Paris Climate Agreement. This is an implicit acknowledgement that US-China competition, including president Donald Trump’s rejection of multilateralism, poses a challenge to multilateralism. From the perspective of both South Korea and the EU, this is problematic insofar it weakens the international rules-based order. Across Europe there is broad support for South Korea to join an expanded G7, which would address the geographical imbalance of this group. But there is also a strong desire to partner with South Korea, among other countries, to ensure that multilateral institutions and the international rules-based order come out stronger from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

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