The growing economic power and geo-strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific have generated active engagement of major powers with the region. Under the New Southern Policy (NSP) unveiled in 2017, Korea has also sought to upgrade its relations with ASEAN and India by boosting economic ties, socio-cultural exchanges and cooperation in the area of peace and security. While an earlier version of the NSP focused on bilateral cooperation with targeted countries, it now looks to collaborate with other players in addressing the needs of ASEAN and India. In particular, as the United States seeks partnerships with its key allies in advancing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP), there has been growing interest in cooperation between the FOIP and the NSP. Initially, the Korean government took an ambiguous stance toward the FOIP, but agreed to work together with the U.S. by building synergies between the NSP and the FOIP. However, given the strategic nature of the FOIP as a counterbalance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and attendant concerns about the FOIP in the region, particularly in ASEAN ‒ the key partner of the NSP ‒, close collaboration with the FOIP poses some challenges for the NSP in terms of addressing regional sensitivity to it. Against this backdrop, by exploring how the FOIP is perceived by NSP-targeted countries and clarifying their cooperation needs, this study provides policy recommendations on how the ROK-U.S. partnership should be advanced in the region.
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