South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday called for efforts to form an economic bloc between his country and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), saying the move will create a driving force to get the world out of the global economic recession.
"A global crisis requires a global countermeasure, and what is most needed is joint efforts of South Korea and ASEAN that possess great potential and the chance for a rebound," Lee said in his keynote speech marking the opening of a business forum attended by some 700 government and business leaders from South Korea and the 10 member nations of ASEAN.
The two-day "CEO Summit", held in the country's southern resort island of Jeju, will be followed by a special South Korea-ASEAN summit scheduled from Monday, which will be attended by Lee and leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Lee noted that Korea-ASEAN relations have improved dramatically over the last 20 years, during which Seoul's bilateral trade with ASEAN countries jumped from 8.2 billion US dollars in 1989 to over90 billion dollars last year.
President Lee said the countries must further expand and deepen their economic ties to form an economic bloc in the region.
"Korea and ASEAN must establish a practical regional business community based on their economic relations that grew so remarkably over the years," the president said.
Lee also called for increased exchanges in social and cultural sectors, noting more exchanges will lead to increased opportunities for both sides, as well as better understanding between their people.
The president then stressed the need for joint efforts to fight climate change, which he earlier said is a "daunting challenge" that threatens all mankind.
"(South) Korea will work with ASEAN countries from now on to expand our cooperation in various areas that will include the development of renewable energy to environmentally friendly technology and forestation projects," the president said.
In the forum, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the current rotating chairman of ASEAN, called on South Korea and ASEAN to join efforts in fighting the global economic slowdown, saying no country can overcome the crisis alone.
"The problems and challenges we face today require concerted regional efforts. Regional cooperation and integration are no longer a luxury, but a necessity," Abhisit said in a speech at the CEO's forum.
"In light of the global economic and financial crisis, we need to work more closely together to ensure that our trade and investment ties will not be seriously affected," Abhisit said.
"Our collaboration is beyond borders; we should therefore think regionally and act globally. Together, ASEAN and Korea can move ahead," he added.