05/31/2023, 14.53
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South Korea and Pacific Islands to cooperate, fight climate change

by Alessandra Tamponi

South Korea hosted the first Korea-Pacific Islands Summit, which provided an opportunity to discuss sustainable development and maritime affairs. Given its geopolitical and economic importance, the region is increasingly interesting to the Yoon administration.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The first Korea-Pacific Island Summit was held in South Korea on 29 and 30 May.

Co-chaired by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, it was attended by representatives from 17 of the 18 countries of the Pacific Islands Forum and provided a useful platform to discuss future South Korean-Pacific relations.

Chosen by the host country, the summit’s main theme was "Navigating towards Co-Prosperity: Strengthening Cooperation with the Blue Pacific". It is precisely with the aim of shared prosperity that participants promised to boost cooperation.

Areas of interest include maritime affairs, in particular ocean protection from radioactive material; sustainable development; combating climate change; and resilience in response to natural disasters.

South Korea used the summit to establish diplomatic relations with Niue, an island country not yet a member of the United Nations, and to present its action plan for the Pacific islands.

Built on three pillars, the latter calls for resilience, i.e. improving countries' response to disasters caused by climate change; stronger measures to help the region realise its potential; revitalisation through greater physical and digital connectivity for post-pandemic development.

South Korea’s president also pledged to double official development assistance (ODA) by 2027 to a total of about US$ 40 million.

For the Yoon administration, the summit represents a key move to enhance South Korea’s influence in a region that is increasingly important geopolitically, as it covers about 15 per cent of the planet’s surface, and is vital for the realisation of its Indo-Pacific strategy.

Announced in 2022, the strategy, which has attracted the attention of both Washington and Beijing, calls for a shift in South Korea’s foreign policy, envisaging the creation of a free, peaceful, and prosperous area.

In light of Seoul’s existing relations with the Indo-Pacific, it seeks greater alignment with the United States and Australia to counter China’s growing influence.

With the region’s significance growing, Yoon wants to build synergy between his administration’s objectives and those envisaged in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, the long-term development plan adopted by the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum.

Fishing and maritime affairs are the key areas, not only because of the islands' vulnerability to climate change and rising sea levels, but also because of the role played by the fishing industry in the relationship between South Korea and the islands countries.

The Republic of Kiribati, for example, has an exclusive economic zone of 3.5 million square kilometres in the Pacific Ocean, mostly tuna-rich waters.

In the past, Kiribati authorities sold fishing licenses to companies in Taiwan, Spain, the United States and even South Korea; however, illegal fishing and underreported catches have put the country at risk, threatening small local fishermen and the entire ecosystem.

South Korea has recently been linked to illegal fishing in the Pacific. A South Korean ship was prevented from unloading a cargo of more than 4,000 kg of tuna in Bangkok (Thailand) following allegations that it used illegal fish aggregation devices (FADs).

What is more, this is not an isolated case according to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) whose investigations reveal that many more South Korean vessels are involved.

Thus, for South Korean President Yoon, sustainable development in fishing and related activities could become a key aspect for economic and environmental cooperation with Pacific countries.

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