Pursuing a regional identity
Why can’t people of Korea, China and Japan reconcile and stop leering at each other? Why do they remain antagonistic and hostile?
For the last several decades, the economic relationships among the three Northeast Asian countries have become closer, and the correlation in industries has intensified. The chains of added value for industry have become complex. Moreover, exchanges in arts and culture, human exchanges in tourism and education and exchanges in civil society have become more active. The ecosystems of knowledge are increasingly integrated.
Despite the social and economic closeness, security discord in the region is aggravated, and people’s sentiment has become more hostile. It is contrary to Western society, where economic mutual dependency contributes to easing security concerns. Why do the two regions have such opposite correlations between economy and security?
In Western society, Christian beliefs and values are widely established, and countries share awareness and values. As they have experienced prolonged wars and turbulence, countries become united and integrated. As a result, the Western world became homogenous and pure-blood principles faded. Crusades, Napoleon’s war, the Allied powers against the mutual enemies during World War I and II, formation of NATO against the Soviet Union, establishment of EU and Eurozone in response to Pax Americana after the Cold War are historical examples that contributed to regionalism in the Western world.
In the process, unique identities of individual nations became mitigated and the European community formed a unified identity. As the formation brought together economy and security, relief of security tensions followed.
However, Northeast Asia has failed to form such an identity. Each country has deep-rooted traditional values and exclusivism did not decrease. With increasing religious diversity, Confucianism faded away and failed to become a mutual value in the region.
Historically, the three countries never waged a war against a mutual enemy and never had an awareness of joint defense. Rather than riding the same boat, three countries attacked their neighbors while being friends with distant countries.
The Cold War also divided the region into the continent and the ocean, and the trend still exists today. In the era of soft power, Northeast Asia is still trapped in the mindset of military hardware competition.
The vivid memories of tragic modern history resulted in a clear political and security influence, and accelerated nationalism in each country. Korea especially suffered frequent invasions, reinforcing a pure-blood principle and exclusivism.
In order to overcome the situation, Asia needs to establish an integrated regional identity just like Europe.
Members of the region need to accumulate assets of trust through frequent exchanges and narrow the gap in historic awareness. We need to display strong self-control not to make history into political and security issues. They are challenging tasks that require patience in the long term.
In the process, different ethnic characteristics, China receiving tributes and gifts from other countries, Japan’s “leaving Asia and joining the West, and Korea’s exclusive belongingness, need to be integrated to create one regional identity.
The Korea-China-Japan summit, which has been suspended for a while, will resume in Seoul October 29 and 30. It is timely and desirable for the leaders of the three countries to resolve discords, discuss current affairs and design the future. But the people of the three countries still have grudges from the past, and the perspective on each other is not unified. We desperately need active and influential civilian channels seeking reconciliation and convergence.
Just in time, the Korea-China-Japan Seoul Process will convene in Seoul before the summit on October, a civilian project pursuing reconciliation and coexistence in Northeast Asia.
With Korea playing a central role, the Seoul Process will be held every April, and 12 members from established and future generations from each country will meet. The 36 intellectuals in foreign policy, security, economy, history, culture and environment will homogenize differences in ideas, values and historical understandings.
The Korea-China-Japan summit and the Seoul Process will lead and support each other to build a community of peace beyond prosperity.
Translation by the Korea JoonAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 14, Page 32
*The author, a former minister of commerce, industry and energy, is the chairman of the North East Asian Research Foundation.
by Chung Duck-koo