▲ Yebin and Sean McLeod, with ASEAN nation flags on their faces, symbolizes Jeju readiness for the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit meeting this weekend. Photo by Brian Miller
At a time when global peace seems like a far-fetched ideal, and even long-standing alliances are straining to hold together, 10 heads of state from Asian nations surrounding Korea will come together in Jeju this weekend to celebrate their 20-year-strong bond of friendship. They will toast the past, and look to the future.

It’s written on banners across the island: Partners for Real, Friends for Good.” This sentiment of hope and solidarity is the theme of the most important event of the decade in Jeju, the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit, being held June 1-2 at ICC Jeju in Jungmun Tourist Resort.

The Asian heads of state and Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak will arrive to a hero’s welcome, as Jeju has spared no expense to beautify the island for the benefit of summit attendees.

The Blue House, Korea’s equivalent of the U.S. White House, released a statement last week, saying, “ASEAN is a very important diplomatic partner for Korea. It’s also significant that each of the 10 state heads will attend the summit. It shows how highly ASEAN members think of their cooperation with Korea.”

The event is expected to include nearly 3,000 participants from the ASEAN member nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Korea is not a member of ASEAN, but is considered a cooperative auxiliary associate of the partnership, along with China and Japan. South Korea signed on to an official partnership with ASEAN in 1989. The summit in Jeju is sometimes referred to as “ASEAN Plus One.”

Some attendees will travel to the International Convention Center Jeju from the airport by helicopter, landing on the newly created helipad at the convention center. Others will be whisked in limousines down the 1135 road, renamed ASEAN Street in honor of the event.

Along the way they will see the flowering of the efforts of Jeju to welcome them, with thousands of blossoms adorning every surface. Banners and flags of each of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members will flutter in the Jeju breeze as they pass by, against the backdrop of magnificent Hallasan on one side and the green farm fields on the other.

While the annual ASEAN Summit meeting that was held in Thailand in April was disrupted by protestors, and ultimately canceled, security is tight at this gathering. Jeju is naturally more difficult to access, and a security force of 5,500 extra police from the mainland has already taken up position in Jeju.

The main focus of the weekend will be on strengthening the relationships between the Asian nations, and looking ahead to the future, particularly in the areas of politics, security and culture.

On the second day of the summit they will get down to discussions about specific issues, such as the global financial crisis, energy security and climate change. The participants are expected to sign a joint agreement based on these issues.

President Lee will also meet with leaders individually to discuss issues related to relations between the respective leaders’ countries.

The summit marks a shift in Korean foreign policy, away from relations with the superpowers such as the United States, Japan and China, and toward more mutually beneficial relations with the country’s Asian neighbors.

The members of the ASEAN pact constitute Korea’s largest trading partnerships, and more than 3 million Korean tourists visited these nations last year.

Jeju is hoping to use this high-profile visit by the heads of these nations to show what the island has to offer tourists and investors.

Jeju Special Self-governing Provincial Governor Kim Tae-hwan feels the ASEAN meeting is a chance for Jeju to secure more convention business as well as woo investors. He noted that foreign investors have already agreed to invest 2.67 trillion won ($2.1 billion USD) in eight projects in Jeju. He also foresees a “ripple effect” from the summit with up to 260 billion won ($204.1 million USD) being injected into the local economy.

Malaysia, one of the ASEAN members, has already signed a joint-venture contract with the Jeju government to construct a “resort-type residential complex” at Yerae.

With Jeju pulling out all the stops to present the island in all its glory, it would be difficult for ASEAN summit attendees to resist wanting to return to Jeju, whether to vacation, invest, or both.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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