[OUTLOOK]Look beyond the Han RiverWe are now preoccupied with the investigation into campaign funding, the meeting and parting of politicians and economic recession, all events along the narrow shores of the Han River.
So we cannot see the cataclysmic changes in the vast Pacific region. The Financial Times said, “The rise of China and India presages the same change that the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the United States brought to the world economy and politics.”
This newspaper forecast that by the mid-21st century, Asia would be an overwhelming economic region, and that within 40 years, the Chinese economy would grow to be on the same level as the American economy. Facing this rushing wave of change on the Pacific rim, the scenario of becoming the hub of Northeast Asia proposed by the Roh Moo-hyun administration seems poorly-conceived and nearsighted.
The great changes in Asia and the Pacific region are happening in a way in which China and India take the lead and the astonished Japan is responding in a hurry to maintain its vested interests in this region.
But the Korean government is talking about being the hub of Northeast Asia, regardless of such changes.
Let’s first take a look at India’s eastern policy, in which none of us, except for some concerned businessmen, take any interest.
India, which completed a restructuring of its economy in the 1990s, has rapidly grown to be a powerful country in the information and technology area, among others. Total production in the Indian software industry in 2002 was $12.4 billion and its exports accounted for 20 percent of total exports. Its export goal for 2008 is $50 billion.
Gartner Dataquest, a U.S. market survey company, predicts that by 2007, India’s share of the global software market will be 57 percent.
In the India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit talks held in Bali, Indonesia, in October, India joined ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in East Asia, and signed an agreement with ASEAN member countries for comprehensive economic cooperation, including a free trade agreement.
India, which supported those forces that protested against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, took the fall of the regime in late 2001 as its opportunity to strengthen its relations with Central Asian countries.
One of India’s ambitious projects was to make an agreement to develop trade routes with Iran and Afghanistan. The key place will be the port of Chabahar in Iran, bypassing Pakistan. This project aims to expand and modernize the port, connected by a seaway to Mumbai, a financial and commercial city in India along the Arabian Sea. Then India will have a trade route that passes through Afghanistan to Central Asia. India is also conceiving an ambitious long-range plan to build a railroad connecting New Delhi and Hanoi and to improve a highway as a part of the Mekong River and Ganges River development and cooperation project, which was agreed on with five southeast Asian countries in 2000.
Since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has steadily grown to become an economic power, based on $400 billion of foreign exchange holdings, 46 million college graduates and 30 percent annual growth in information and technology sectors on average. China undertook harbor construction work at a fishing port in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. China is footing 80 percent of the $250 million construction cost and committed 3,000 Chinese engineers and workers to carry out the project.
When it is complete, a trade route will be completed to link China through Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. Then the transit time from the Arabian Sea to the border of China will be only four days. China also signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in East Asia last year. The blast-off of the Chinese spaceship Shenzhou IV, the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai World’s Fair in 2010 will add momentum to its movement toward becoming a “new China.”
Surprised at China’s and India’s advances into Southeast Asia, Japan hosted a Japan-ASEAN summit meeting in Tokyo last December. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested a scheme in which ASEAN member countries, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand would establish a community equal to the level of the European Union within 25 years.
Concerned about its relations with the United States, Japan had been hesitant to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in East Asia. But eventually it decided to do so, and also agreed to take part in the construction of a route from Busan to Istanbul, Turkey, a new “Silk Road.”
These are changes in the Pacific region taking place beyond the Han River and in Asia outside of Korea. China and Japan have an eye on Southeast Asia for the most part. Therefore, we need to broaden the scope of our Northeast Asia-centered plan to adapt to the cataclysmic changes in the Pacific region and adjust its direction. If we don’t turn our eyes toward the Pacific Ocean beyond the Han River and our eastern sea, I am worried that we might become an orphan in the Asia and Pacific region in the 21st century.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie