South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in Australia for talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Analysts have said that enhancing defense ties is a priority of the four-day visit, along with China's growing regional influence.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is the first world leader to arrive since Australia closed its borders to most foreign travelers in March 2020.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed Moon and South Korea’s first lady Kim Jung-sook to Canberra on Monday.
“I am so pleased we could join together as we have been threatening to do for many years now through COVID, and we can now come together in this way, and I am so pleased to be able to host you and to formally elevate our relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership,” Morrison said.
The leaders have agreed on several new joint initiatives around clean energy technology, the supply of critical minerals, and defense. Under a new deal worth 771 million U.S. dollars, the South Korean company Hanwha will provide 30 howitzers, ammunition supply vehicles, and radars to detect enemy artillery. It is the largest military contract between Australia and an Asian nation. Analysts have said South Korea is also well-placed to win a contract with Australia worth 21.3 billion U.S. dollars for new infantry attack vehicles.
Speaking through an interpreter, Moon said the two countries were committed to an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
Korea and Australia uphold the same values, and in terms of the geopolitical situation, they are like-minded, Moon said. Korea therefore is focused on a steadfast alliance with the U.S. and wants a harmonized relationship with China, he said.
Moon is the first South Korean president to come to Australia in more than a decade.
Hayley Channer, a senior policy fellow with the Perth USAsia Centre, says Moon's visit is significant.
“Australia has often looked across the table and seen South Korea and seen that it is preoccupied with developments on the Korean Peninsula, but Australia and South Korea have so many different things in common. So, having this bilateral visit is extremely important to progress the relationship forward,” Channer said.
This year, the two nations will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations.
South Korea is Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner. A free-trade deal has been in place since December 2014.