A Pandora's Box is Opening Up in East Asia

06/02/2014 11:20 pm ET | Updated Aug 02, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

These remarks are adapted from a speech by the foreign minister at the Jeju Forum on "Designing a New Asia."

Last week, a Chinese fighter jet and a Japanese reconnaissance plane nearly avoided a mid-air collision over the East China Sea, missing one another by a mere 30 meters. It was the first such incident in recent history.

During this same time, Vietnamese and Chinese vessels have been engaged in a rare physical confrontation in the South China Sea -- the first since their last military conflict ended in 1979. Also, North Korea fired shells near a South Korean naval patrol ship below the Northern Limit Line, in addition to the ongoing threat to conduct the fourth nuclear test "in a way nobody has ever imagined."

More fundamentally, tensions arising from historical revisionism are adding fuel to territorial conflicts and arms race in Northeast Asia, while misguided nationalism is on the rise.

But this is not the whole picture. The ongoing move to reinterpret the Peace Constitution of Japan in a way to allow the exercise of collective self-defense is being watched closely with concern by not only its neighbors but also its own people. Confrontation over cyber security across the Pacific is only the latest addition. Competition over regional efforts for integration and cooperation is in some ways turning into a rivalry that could result in mutual exclusion. And the list goes on and on.

It looks like the "Pandora's Box" is being opened, with all sorts of problems -- both old and new -- popping up, complicating the already very complex situation in Asia. Any of these developments, if mishandled or left unchecked, could escalate into a much more serious situation with far reaching consequences for the region.

A DIFFERENT DESTINY

This doesn't need to be our destiny. If we travel back in time to 20 years ago, we would encounter an Asia that is very different from today. Its economy was dynamic, and expectations were running high for a new order, as the movements for regional integration, such as APEC, ARF and ASEAN+3 were being launched with great enthusiasm.

Today, Asia once again faces a historical challenge. It is standing at the crossroads between progress and retrogression. Why and how have we come this far? Partly, this is accounted for by the new and divergent outlook for the regional order -- a rising China, a resurgent Japan, strong Russia, anachronistic North Korea obsessed with the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the United States who is rebalancing to Asia.

If my diagnosis is correct, what should be the right prescription? The time has come for all regional stakeholders to make a commitment to design a "New Asia." We need to dream a new dream for the future, albeit perhaps in different forms and shapes.

As the United States pursues the "Pacific Dream," China is dreaming a "Chinese Dream." ASEAN is dreaming its own dream for ASEAN Community. In Korea, we are dreaming a "Korean Dream" of the unified Korean Peninsula.

But all these dreams should better be incorporated into a greater Asian or Asian-Pacific dream. It is important that we share the same vision for the entire region. The European integration was possible because Europeans shared the vision of a united, peaceful, and prosperous Europe enshrined in the Schuman Declaration and the Treaty of Rome.

The Helsinki Process was also possible because the Eastern and Western blocs shared basic principles, such as the sovereign equality, refrain from the use of force and respect for human rights.

To this end, I would like to share with you my three visions of a "New Asia."

The first is a "peaceful Asia." We should build peace that is durable, instead of the fragile peace resulting from a balance of power; a peace that respects the common interests of all countries rather than the interest of a particular country; a peace that is based on justice and norms; a peace that promotes integration over division.

The second is a "prosperous Asia." We should build an Asia where the regional economy is fully integrated, creativity is shared, and economic and social differences are addressed. The region should promote interconnectedness and facilitate free movement of people and trade across the border.

The third is a "progressive Asia." We should build Asia that is free, open, democratic, and contributes to the universal development of humanity.

BALANCED DISSATISFACTION

In a recent conversation with Henry Kissinger in New York, he emphatically said that when pursuing foreign policy objectives, an attitude that seeks "a balanced dissatisfaction over absolute satisfaction" is critical.

In contrast, the Constitution of UNESCO is more focused on the importance of people. It provides "that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

Whether the focus is on the states or on the people, we should complement the traditional order of bilateralism with a multi-faceted and multi-layered network to promote mutual understanding and communication, and to build trust among the countries and people in the region -- both in the areas of high and low politics.

Under the current tense political and security situation, we need to manage the growing tension through regional and sub-regional confidence building measures. Perhaps, we can begin to think about establishing a crisis management mechanism to avoid accidental clashes in the sea, air and space. In particular, the freedom of navigation should be secured, as it is vital to the economy and the security of the countries in the region.

While we're on the subject of regional security, I would be amiss if I didn't address the biggest obstacle to the regional peace, which is the North Korean nuclear issue. I would say that we are now at the crossroads of whether we will see a nuclear armed or a denuclearized North Korea. We are nearing the tipping point. As such, intensive efforts should be made to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue once and for all, through the cooperation of the members of the Six Party Talks and the international community, including the United Nations Security Council.

As we have seen from the experiences in Europe, efforts for the regional peace gain momentum when coupled with regional integration. In Asia, we already have ongoing integration efforts at various levels through trade agreements in addition to ASEAN and the East Asia Summit. Together with peace building efforts, we should intensify our regional integration efforts so that we may contribute to the common goal of attaining peace, prosperity, and human dignity for all of Asia.

In building peace and prosperity in Asia, easing tension and building trust on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia are quintessential objectives of my government under the leadership of President Park Geun-hye.

To overcome the seven decades of the division of the Korean Peninsula, President Park proposed the trust building process on the Korean Peninsula and more recently, laid out three specific agendas for peaceful unification in her speech in Dresden, Germany, which includes agenda for humanity; agenda for co-prosperity; and agenda for integration.

President Park also proposed the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative that aims to transform the region's mistrust and confrontation into trust and cooperation.

Furthermore, to reach out to our partners across the Eurasian continent, President Park proposed the Eurasia Initiative that aspires to transform Eurasia into a continent of peace and prosperity.

Our hope is that such diverse efforts toward cooperation and integration beyond our region will not only ease tension in Northeast Asia and Eurasia, but also build trust between the two Koreas on the Peninsula.

As Steve Jobs described with the phrase "connecting the dots," even if individual efforts do not immediately result in tangible success, it does not mean that they are not worthwhile. In the long run, these efforts will serve as a valuable foundation for peace and prosperity in the region.

NO RETURN TO GEOPOLITICS

Asia is now undergoing a historical transformation. It is a great challenge presented to all of us. However, we have the will and the capacity to meet these challenges. For Korea, we are willing and ready to play a proactive role in designing a "New Asia."

With our collective wisdom and cooperation, we should send a very clear message to all those doomsayers who are predicting the "return of geopolitics" that the future of Asia is still bright, and the future of the world will rest on Asia.