BUSAN -- South Korea and ten Southeast Asian nations pledged Tuesday to resist all forms of protectionism, in a swipe at the trade war U.S. President Donald Trump is waging with China.
"We... hereby agree to... reiterate our commitment to support for the enhancement of trade and investment and the resistance to all forms of protectionism in order to improve regional development and prosperity," the leaders of the 11 nations said in a joint statement after a two-day summit in the South Korean port city of Busan.
The meeting with leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations is part of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's "New Southern Policy" aimed at shifting the country's diplomatic status to Southeast Asia and India, and reducing its reliance on China.
Moon said that international trade should be based on a free and fair and system, in a clear sign that he opposes the tariffs that Trump is slapping on imports from China and elsewhere.
"We reaffirmed that free trade is the way for mutual prosperity as worries over protectionism rise globally," Moon said in a joint news conference with Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. "South Korea and ASEAN will move toward an innovative community of mutual prosperity based on free trade."
The South Korean economy has been hit hard by the trade war, with exports dropping 14.7% to $46.8 billion in October from a year earlier.
Analysts say that reduced global demand is hurting Asia's fourth-largest economy seriously, dragging down the volume and amount of shipments overseas. The South Korean economy may lose a chance to rebound next year should overseas downside risks continue to weigh on it.
"Poor exports stemming from low global demand is the key factor that limits the growth momentum of our economy," Korea Development Institute said in a report earlier this month. "Improvement of our economy may be delayed if overseas downside risks such as the U.S.-China trade dispute, Brexit and geopolitical tension in the Middle East reemerge."
South Korea and ASEAN agreed to improve economic cooperation as Seoul promised to double its fund to help Southeast Asian countries to $14 million per year.
On Monday, South Korea and Indonesia wound up more than seven years of negotiations on a free trade deal, with an agreement to remove tariffs on steel, autos and beer.
In a separate session, ASEAN leaders said they supported Moon's peace process on the Korean Peninsula, saying they are willing to help the initiative through the ASEAN Regional Forum, which includes representatives from Pyongyang.