The leaders of South Korea and Malaysia agreed on Mar. 13, 2019 to launch negotiations toward a bilateral free trade agreement and push for their conclusion before the year's end.
On the second day of his visit to Kuala Lumpur, President Moon Jae-in held a summit with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to discuss ways to expand the countries' cooperation and exchanges.
"The two leaders agreed to push for a South Korea-Malaysia FTA to create an institutional framework that will help further expand the countries' trade and investment, and to try to declare the conclusion of negotiations at the special South Korea-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at the end of the year by moving forward their negotiations with speed," Moon's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.
The summit between South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN is expected to be held in November, marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their dialogue relations.
South Korea and Malaysia conducted a joint feasibility study for a bilateral FTA in 2011-2012, but their discussions have since stood still.
The FTA, if signed, would be in addition to the South Korea-ASEAN FTA that went into effect in June 2007.
Malaysia and the nine other member countries of ASEAN make up South Korea's second-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between South Korea and Malaysia is also on a steady increase, spiking 14.9 percent to US$19.2 billion last year from $16.7 billion the year before, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon emphasized the need to increase the countries' joint efforts to ensure co-prosperity.
"We have agreed to actively seek the countries' cooperation also in the advanced sectors, such as ICT, big data, smart manufacturing, future vehicles and health, as part of joint efforts to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution," the South Korean president said in a joint press conference with Mahathir held shortly after their summit.
The leaders also agreed to expand their security cooperation while also strengthening their efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.
"Prime Minister Mahathir has ceaselessly supported our government's efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and agreed to closely work with us to have North Korea become a member of ASEAN and the international community," Moon told the joint press conference.
"For the safety of both our peoples, we agreed to strengthen our cooperation in the defense industry and cooperation in areas of security and cyber security," he added.
"We hope that the relationship between North and South Korea will improve over the years, and we hope that agreement will be reached between the U.S. and North Korea on disarmament," Mahathir told the press conference.
The South Korea-Malaysia summit came two days after Malaysia unexpectedly released an Indonesian woman suspected of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother, Kim Jong-nam, in 2017.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said the issue did not come up at the start of the Moon-Mahathir summit.
"It is difficult to confirm whether it was ever a discussion item in talks attended only by the leaders," the spokesman said in a press release, noting the leaders held a one-on-one meeting attended only by their interpreters.
Moon and Mahathir also called for efforts to develop new joint business opportunities, such as combining the growing popularity of South Korean pop culture, known as "hallyu," or the Korean wave, with Malaysia's halal industry.
Shortly after his arrival here Tuesday on a three-day state visit, the South Korean president attended a special business fair introducing some 150 halal-certified hallyu products, ranging from food and cosmetics to various hallyu content.
"The two leaders agreed to seek joint development of markets in third countries by combining South Korea's globally competitive hallyu content and the halal industry of Malaysia that sets global standards for halal," Cheong Wa Dae said.
The leaders also pledged joint efforts for the success of the special South Korea-ASEAN summit.
"The two leaders agreed to work together so the special South Korea-ASEAN summit, set to be held in South Korea later this year, will be a chance to look back on South Korea-ASEAN relations over the past 30 years and provide a new vision for the next 100 years, along with a strategic road map to ensure peace and co-prosperity in the region," Cheong Wa Dae said.
Following the summit, South Korea and Malaysia signed four new memoranda of understanding on cooperation in a ceremony attended by their leaders.
The new agreements, signed by the countries' respective agencies, call for increased cooperation in the manufacturing industry and the transportation sector, as well as cooperation in developing new smart cities and halal-certified hallyu products.
Moon and Mahathir were again brought together later at a state dinner hosted by Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or king.
"The cooperation between the two countries is already headed for the future. The countries' cooperation is further expanding to areas ranging from trade, investment, infrastructure and IT to smart cities, the defense industry and culture as Malaysia's Look East Policy encounters South Korea's New Southern Policy," Moon said while proposing a toast.
The South Korean president expressed hope for further improvements in the countries' bilateral ties, noting the countries will mark the 60th anniversary of establishing their diplomatic ties next year.
"I thank the people of Malaysia who appreciate hallyu, and I hope more of our people will become friends who are connected by heart," he said.
Moon will wrap up his state visit to Malaysia on Mar. 14, 2019 to head for Cambodia, the third and last leg of his three-nation tour that has also taken him to Brunei. (Yonhap)