[OUTLOOK]Get Over the Past by Forming a Future

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[OUTLOOK]Get Over the Past by Forming a Future

The world is dominated by three main regions - the United States, Europe and Asia.

The United States is expanding its influence. It is promoting the economic integration of the North and South American continents by recruiting South American countries as member nations of its North American Free Trade Area.

Meanwhile, Europe is attempting to form its own "European United States," including eastern European countries, by integrating the continent into a common political and economic community. Beginning next January, a common currency, the euro, will be in circulation among many European nations.

But what is happening to Asia, and in particular the eastern portion of the continent?

While the United States expands its influence, and while European countries draw together, Asia is splitting apart, and East Asian countries are continuously embarking on new schemes to provoke regional antagonism.

One obvious example is the controversial Japanese rightist history textbook - and the responses of Korea and China toward it.

Unfortunately, Asian nations have yet to drag themselves out of the nationalistic, imperialistic, blinkered vision of the 19th century. Asian countries have yet to find a common project for the 21st century.

There is no future if we cannot settle the past - or is that really true? A bright future is not guaranteed even if the wrongs of the past are resolved. When the Korean military dictatorship came to an end, even though we worked hard to deal with its skeletons, we were not blessed with immediate democracy. It takes a lot of hard work to build a future.

A "true" settlement of the past, including war and colonialism, can be achieved by opening the door to a new future by promoting peace and common prosperity. Past wrongs can only be settled if Korea, Japan and China make a common efforts to create a new future. For this, a new vision for the East Asian countries, such as forming an East Asian union, must be drafted. This should be Asia's 21st century project.

East Asia countries must overcome the urge to seek hegemonic power, construct a peaceful community for national security, form an economic union promoting common prosperity through the expansion of free trade and establish a cultural union through historical, religious and artistic exchanges.

Korea should persuade China and Japan to make the East Asian union possible, establish a pact with the ASEAN countries and solicit the understanding and cooperation of the United States and Russia on this matter.

There are several reasons for Korea to take the lead in forming the union.

First, history has taught us that constructing a system to foster peace and common prosperity across East Asia is needed to ensure the survival of Korea. Throughout history, Korea has always been a victim when there were clashes among nations seeking regional hegemony.

Second, one of the development strategies of nations in this globalization era must be "open regionalism" - free trade and exchange that goes beyond forming of regional bilateral agreements that can become stumbling blocks to truly free and open trade. In order to overcome the difficulties of globalization, it is essential for nations in the same region to form tightly knit commercial, economic and financial alliances. Countries that form coalitions have greater negotiating power and are more capable of dealing with crises than individual countries.

Third, forming a East Asian union is an essential condition for Korea to dampen North-South Korean confrontation. The unification of the Korean Peninsula is not only in the hands of the two Koreas. Unification can only be approached through a larger framework of building up a militarily peaceful union of East Asian countries and an economically prosperous community.

Fourth, Korea is one of the East Asian countries that has never pursued colonialism and hegemonic power. Therefore, for Korea to initiate the creation of an East Asian union would have tremendous persuasive power on other nations.

I am writing this after a recent visit to the European Union secretariat in Brussels, Belgium. I asked the people I met there whether they thought it would be possible for the East Asian countries to form a union considering their long and deep history of war, conflict and antagonism.

Most of them replied that the conflict and antagonism among nations and ethnic groups in Europe after World War II was no less than in East Asian countries. Some said it was worse. Germany and France have gone to war twice in the past 80 years and 25 million Europeans died during World War II.

When there was first talk of forming a union of European countries by some political leaders, only in their dreams did people imagine that it would advance to its present state. History is made of the dreams of people and the dreams of nations.


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The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Park Se-il

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