On March 23 in Hanoi, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, announced plans to rapidly increase trade between their two countries from more than $60 billion today to $100 billion by 2020. Bilateral trade has been growing quickly since South Korea and Vietnam signed a free trade deal in 2015, building on economic ties formed after diplomatic relations were established in 1992. In an email interview, Lee Jaehyon, a research fellow and director of the Center for ASEAN and Oceania Studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, discusses South Korea and Vietnam’s deepening relationship and how it fits into both countries’ regional foreign policies.
WPR: What is the current state of bilateral ties between South Korea and Vietnam, and how has the relationship evolved in recent years?
Lee Jaehyon: Vietnam is one of the most important partners in Southeast Asia for South Korea economically, socially and culturally. Bilateral trade between the two countries is currently more than $60 billion a year, and South Korea’s trade surplus is huge—more than $20 billion. Vietnam is South Korea’s fourth-largest trading partner, while South Korea is Vietnam’s second-largest trading partner. South Korea is also the biggest foreign investor in Vietnam, as large South Korean conglomerates, including Samsung and Lotte, have helped spur economic growth in Vietnam by establishing factories there.