Opportunities, challenges abound
North Korea appears to be gearing up for a father-to-son power transition but it remains to be seen if the reclusive communist regime can successfully pull off a third-generation dynastic succession, South Korea’s Minister of Defense Kim Tae-young said yesterday at a global forum.
“Because [the heir-apparent] Kim Jong-un is so young, we believe that he will face some difficulties in taking over the regime,” Kim said. “There are several possible scenarios - including the possibility that the North could transition into a collective leadership system - but we are not sure what the actual outcome will be. We are preparing for various possibilities, including the scenario that the North may plunge into chaos if the power succession does not go as planned.”
Speaking at a working luncheon for the J-Global Forum in Seoul, Kim addressed security issues on the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century, including international efforts to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program and speculation surrounding power succession in the North.
Kim said a power transition seems imminent at this point, as current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il battles health issues. The country plans to hold a rare meeting of the Workers’ Party this month, further fueling speculation of an impending power shift to 28-year-old Kim Jong-un, the third son of the North Korean leader.
The defense minister also spoke about Seoul’s plan to deal with Pyongyang.
“While it is undeniable that Asia is undergoing stunning economic growth, numerous issues that could create instability still remain in political and military areas,” Kim said in his speech, mentioning a wide range of threats, including North Korea. “Strong sanctions must be used when dealing with rogue states such as North Korea in order to ensure that they do not repeat their misdeeds.”
Kim also said one of Seoul’s primary goals is to tackle the nuclear issue in North Korea through six-party talks. But he added that the international community should pursue other methods - including discussions without the North - to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
“I believe holding five-nation negotiations that exclude the North and lead to an agreement to pressure Pyongyang might be a solution,” the minister said.
The two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States previously participated in the nuclear talks, which have stalled in recent years.
The J-Global Forum - organized by the JoongAng Ilbo, the Korean Culture and Information Service and the Yumin Culture Foundation - was held at the Shilla Hotel.
About 100 distinguished journalists and experts from 30 countries around the world attended the event, which focused on the rise of Asia, its role on the global stage and the challenges it faces going forward.
In his welcome address, JoongAng Ilbo Chairman Hong Seok-hyun said the world is entering the “era of Asia,” noting that the region is now responsible for 30 percent of global gross domestic product - up from just 4 percent in the 1960s. Hong said the time has come to seriously ponder what Asia needs to do to become the center of the global community.
“The geopolitical chessboard of the 21st century is much more complicated than the one in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Hong said. “Successful civilizations have always been surrounded by complex and difficult issues. Now is not the time for a handful of countries to make decisions that affect the entire world. Because of this, new cultural and political viewpoints may be needed.”
The forum’s three first sessions were devoted to Asia’s rise, while the fourth focused in part on the Group of 20. The JoongAng Ilbo’s editor at large, Kim Young-hie, moderated all of the discussions.
Following Hong’s opening address, participants presented their views about Asia’s growing clout. Panelists agreed that building a regional cooperative system to collectively address global issues is key to ensuring that Asia will play a major role in reshaping the global geopolitical order of the 21st century.
But participants offered slightly different views on other topics.
Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, predicted that the security conflict between China and the United States will intensify unless the two countries work toward “preventive cooperation.”
He also argued that East Asian nations will likely try to capitalize on conflicts between the two powers to advance their own security interests.
Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi, India-based Center for Policy Research, highlighted the challenges Asia faces as a new world order develops. He said key hurdles include overcoming the baggage of history, caging nationalism, eliminating the threat of hegemony by any single state and building common norms and values.
But Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of the German publication Die Zeit, presented a different view of the situation, saying that the United States will continue to play a key role in Asian security for the foreseeable future. Joffe said Japan, Europe, India and even China won’t immediately be able to replace the role of the United States.
“I don’t think East Asia will be able to assure its own security, nor do I think that Asia will accept China as its new conductor,” he said.
However, Joffe said China is “the most prudent, cautious rising power” in world history, which bodes well for overall stability in Asia
Yoichi Funabashi, editor in chief of Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, said Asia will face three challenges in the next decade: the instability of the North Korean regime, maritime security in Southeast Asia and energy and environmental issues, particularly water security.
Several experts also noted that close cooperation among Asian nations would allow the region to secure a more prominent position in global geopolitics.
Other presenters at the forum included Seoul National University professor Chung Jae-ho, Satoru Suzuki of TV Asahi, Bernado Villega, a professor at Asia Pacific University and Jusuf Wanandi, vice chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. The J-Global Forum is an annual gathering of leading editors and journalists from the newspaper industry. Originally named the Asia Press Forum, the conference started in 1996 to promote mutual understanding and offer insights into Asia’s most pressing issues. In 2000, the forum evolved into the Asia-Europe Press Forum and in 2007, it was given a new name - the J-Global Forum - to deal with a wider range of global issues.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]