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Korea and the Mekong Region

Introduction to the Mekong Region

The Mekong is a transboundary river that originates from Tibet, China, and flows into the South China Sea. The Mekong is 4,900 kilometers long and is the longest river that flows in Southeast Asia, crossing five countries – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam (CLMTV).

In the Mekong region, the CLMV countries have recorded an average annual growth of 6% over the years, spearheading ASEAN’s rapid growth. The Mekong region is considered to be a region with great growth potential as it has a total population of 240 million, a large proportion of young workers.

The Mekong region has a great development potential as it has a high demand for cross-border development such as infrastructure construction and water resources management. The region is also abundant in timber, mineral, and sources for hydropower. Building on its own development experiences, Korea is committed to reinforcing cooperation with the Mekong countries in its areas of expertise such as public health and rural development.

Korea-Mekong Relations

Recognizing the importance of reducing the development gap within the ASEAN, the Korean government has been expanding cooperation with the Mekong region through regional development. With these efforts, the Korea government is ultimately aiming to create a community of peace and prosperity that mutually benefits Korea and ASEAN through its New Southern Policy.

After the adoption of the 『Han River Declaration』 during the inaugural Mekong-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2011, which lays out the vision for bilateral cooperation, the two regions have made progress in concrete and substantive cooperation in the six priority areas (Infrastructure, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Green Growth, Water Resource Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Human Resources Development) through the implementation of the Plan of Action (2014-2017).

Recognizing that substantial progress in bilateral cooperation also requires cooperation from the private sector, the Mekong-Korea Business Forum has taken place annually since 2013. The forum provides a venue for further exchanges between small and medium-sized enterprises of the two regions via one-on-one business meetings on trade and investment.

Since 2013, Korea has contributed $7.42 million to the Mekong-ROK Cooperation Fund (MKCF) that was designed to spur the growth of the Mekong region. Korea has supported 13 projects in such areas as water resources management and human resources development. Korea has also endorsed seven new projects this year through the third MKCF proposal call. To accelerate the implementation of the New Southern Policy, the Korean government has increased the volume of the MKCF from $1.12 million in 2018 to $2 million in 2019. Korea is also planning to increase its volume of the MKCF to $3 million by 2020 to meet the increasing demand for MKCF-supported projects.

The CLMV countries are key partners of Korea’s ODA. On a cumulative basis, Korea has offered them $3.3 billion in ODA as of 2017, which accounts for approximately 21% of Korea’s bilateral ODA in total.

The volumes of trade and people-to-people exchanges between the Mekong region and Korea have also grown exponentially. Bilateral trade more than doubled over a period of eight years, from $34.1 billion in 2011 to $84.5 billion 2018. In addition, the number of annual mutual visitors tripled from 2.44 million in 2011 to 6.9 million in 2018, and this upward trend is expected to continue.

As all five of the Mekong countries have diplomatic ties with the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the region is a crucial partner in the establishment of permanent and solid peace on the Korean Peninsula. As peace and common prosperity of the Mekong region and Korea contributes to peace and stability in not only the Korean Peninsula but also the Southeast and Northeast Asian regions, the Korean government will continue to cooperate with the Mekong region.

Bilateral Economic Relations

◎ Trade: $84.5 billion ($58.41 billion in exports and $26.09 billion in imports in 2018)

[Unit: $1 billion, ( ): growth in % / source: KITA]

Bilateral Economic Relations
Bilateral Economic Relations
Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Trade volume
34.1
(38.3)
37.8
(10.2)
43.7
(15.6)
45.69
(4.5)
51.03
(11.6)
58.35
(14.3)
78.62
(34.7)
84.5
(7.4)
Exports
23.2
(36.8)
26.2
(11.9)
30.7
(17.1)
31.56
(2.8)
35.61
(12.8)
40.57
(13.9)
56.48
(39.2)
58.41
(3.4)
Imports
10.9
(41.5)
11.6
(6.4)
13.0
(12)
14.13
(8.6)
15.42
(9.1)
17.78
(15.3)
22.14
(24.5)
26.09
(17.8)
스크롤
People-to-people exchanges

◎ People-to-people exchanges: annual mutual visits amounting to approximately 6.9 million people. (Korea→Mekong countries: 5.77 million people, Mekong countries→Korea: 1.33 million people) (2018)

[Unit: persons / Source: KTO]

People-to-people exchanges
Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Mekong to Korea
499,757
583,726
580,116
698,449
625,321
828,031
933,153
1,133,143
Korea to Mekong
1,942,732
2,364,661
2,615,811
2,528,443
3,149,640
3,602,952
4,714,593
5,772,250
Total
2,442,489
2,948,387
3,195,927
3,226,892
3,774,961
4,430,983
5,647,746
6,905,393
스크롤

Importance of the Mekong-Korea Relations

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