[OUTLOOK]Asia will never be Europe

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[OUTLOOK]Asia will never be Europe

The 13th round of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Busan’s theme was “Towards One Community: Meet the Challenge, Make the Change.” As we clean up the table from the feast, we should calm down and seek to understand the word “community” more accurately.
The South Korean government often uses the term “Northeast Asian community” and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also uses the phrase frequently in his political slogans. But, it appears unclear how the word “community” is widely understood and used.
To better understand the word “community,” comparison with another word, “society,” is necessary. Building a community of people is different from building a society, where people gather together after calculating their mutual interests. Building a community means that its members share their hearts and dreams to become a single unit.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings began in 1989 for the purpose of advancing the economic interests of the member countries. The conference has sought regional economic cooperation since its early stage. The Busan Declaration also included regional cooperation for economic interests such as free trade.
There is a long way to go to grow the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation into a community. The first step must be giving up hasty optimism. Understanding the reasons for the difficult and unpredictable path ahead and finding solutions to them should be the next steps.
Regional cooperation in Northeast Asia, East Asia or the Asia-Pacific area is far more difficult than cooperation in Europe, because of the region’s complexity. East Asia is not one simple space.
Anti-APEC protesters see Asia as a place of neo-liberalist globalization by capitalist forces, led by the United States.
In contrast, the United States sees Asia as a space where freedom must be spread. U.S. President George W. Bush’s speech about freedom and democracy that he gave in Kyoto, Japan, just before the APEC summit, clearly shows such a view.
For China, Asia is a space where China should lead peace, development and cooperation of other members. The views of China, which has long believed it stands at the center of regional order throughout history, were made public by the Chinese President Hu Jintao during his address at the Korean National Assembly just before the APEC meeting.
For Japan, Asia is where it dreams of a Northeast Asian community in the Japanese style, alongside its newly updated alliance with the United States for the 21st century.
For Asean countries, Asia is a venue where they seek peace and prosperity to build a true Asean community among the regional superpowers.
And, for Korea, Asia is a place where it wants to test its potential of playing the role of balancer.
The national leaders of the 21 APEC members wore the Korean traditional garb of durumagi and stood together for a souvenir photo in front of the Nurimaru APEC house on Busan’s Dongbaek Island. In their hearts, they held 21 different views of Asia. And yet, they had serious discussions for two days to address the challenges and changes needed to build a united community.
What triggered such a complex scene? The APEC forum is a regional stage set up to resolve the ill effects of a regional order led by a single superpower of wealth and military capabilities.
But, it is important to understand the differences between the European and Asian stages. The European Union’s 25 countries are carefully experimenting with the possibility of a united community, which shares hearts and minds. It is a desperate act to rejuvenate the old Europe and to escape from the fatigue of the past five centuries of efforts to build one united nation.
The stage of Asia, however, is completely different. After being influenced by Western countries in the 19th century, Asian countries belatedly joined the modern era. However, they are still young. Compared to the old nations of Europe, the Asian countries’ pulses beat strongly. It is inappropriate to dream about an Asian community in an European style.
In Asia, some countries are still traditional, while others have either modernized or still remain in the Cold War era. Some are in a post-modern period.
In this complex time for Asia, the United States, Japan and China may be dreaming about being the sole star act for the long term, or cooperating as star jointly for the short term. Calmly considering Korea’s role and position one more time within such a star act is the way to successfully wrap up the Busan Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translated by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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