Relations between South Korea and Vietnam have improved enormously in recent years, the Nikkei Asias Review reports:
Last year, South Korea invested $6.98 billion in Vietnam, providing more capital than any other country for the second year running. Samsung Electronics, a tech giant, made a major debut in Vietnam in 2008 and currently operates two factories to make mobile phones and other products. The company now accounts for nearly 20% of Vietnam’s exports. LG group, a conglomerate, produces televisions and refrigerators in the country.
Bilateral trade reached $36.5 billion in 2015, up 73-fold from 1992. Late last year, a free trade agreement between the two sides took effect.
Over 40,000 Vietnamese are now in South Korea as migrant workers, making South Korea Vietnam’s most important economic partner.
With the U.S. pivot struggling lately, it’s good to see South Korea joining Japan in picking up the slack in Southeast Asia. Tokyo’s announcement last week that it would participate in exercises in the South China Sea was accompanied by promises of aid for Southeast Asian countries. That follows on several substantial investments from Japan over the past few years. South Korea doesn’t have the same muscle as Japan, but it appears to be flexing nonetheless.
South Korea, like Japan, has a long complicated history in Southeast Asia. The country fought alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and that left some deep scars. That Vietnam is willing to let bygones be bygones isn’t a new story—just look at the country’s friendlier relations with Washington—but it’s still an interesting one. The desire to move forward appears driven, in part, by a fear of China. But there also seems to be a deeper-seated affection for the U.S., at least. It remains to be seen if the same is true of Vietnamese attitudes towards South Korea.
Either way, Beijing can’t be too pleased with the trend.