J Global Forum dissects regional security issues

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J Global Forum dissects regional security issues


Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, far left, moderates a session on regional security challenges at the second J Global Chatham House Forum at the Hotel Shilla in central Seoul on Monday. To his right is EU Ambassador to Korea Gerhard Sabathil; Chun Yung-woo, a former national security advisor; Barbara Demick, former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times; and Lee Geun, international relations professor at Seoul National University. [CHO MUN-GYU]

East Asia’s need to find balance and have its voice heard as it is squeezed between two superpowers - the United States and China - was at the heart of regional security, history and economic issues tackled by a group of experts at the J Global-Chatham House Forum 2015, which kicked off at the Hotel Shilla in central Seoul on Monday.

A lack of trust - namely in Northeast Asia between Korea, Japan and China - enables “a situation that is ripe for serious incidents caused by misperceptions and miscalculations,” warned Marty Natalegawa, former Indonesian foreign minister.

Some 250 people including former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, diplomats, global scholars and students took part in the forum, its second run, which addressed the theme of “Perspectives for Peace and Cooperation in East Asia.”

The forum came a week after the first trilateral summit in three years between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea in Seoul, along with the first bilateral talks between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It also comes amid rising maritime tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea.

“The Asia-Pacific region is replete with outstanding and complex border issues, including maritime boundaries and land boundaries,” Natalegawa said in his keynote addressing the conflicts involving the South China and East China Seas. He urged a “treaty-based commitment to the renunciation of the use of force” and dialogue for the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes. He pointed to a long-called for code of conduct for the South China Sea.

“Indeed, while a situation-specific or dispute-specific code of conduct is much needed, it would be useful to also contemplate a region-initiated ‘model’ code of conduct that can be suitably adapted in specific affected areas.”

Natalegawa also drew upon the experience of dialogue and negotiation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and emphasized the need to establish a “dynamic equilibrium” amid the “continuously evolving regional architecture.”

“A fluid geopolitical and geo-economic setting should not be allowed to lead to an anarchical condition where states constantly jostle for power ascendancy,” Natalegawa said.

The forum was organized by the JoongAng Ilbo, JTBC and the Yumin Cultural Foundation in partnership with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, an influential global policy think tank based in London.

Key participants included Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House; Sir David Wright, vice chairman of Barclays Capital; Yoshihide Soeya, political science professor at Keio University; and Steve Tsang, professor at the University of Nottingham. Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Korea Charles Hay gave a speech at the luncheon on what Europe can offer to the peace and reconciliation process in Asia.

There were three sessions: Regional Security Challenges, Challenges of History, and The Global Economy and its Governance.

During the opening ceremony, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo emphasized the significance of the leaders of Korea, Japan and China’s joint statement following their Nov. 1 summit to strengthen cooperation and the importance of the Northeast Asia Initiative in “solving less controversial issues and then later expanding to sensitive issues.”

“Asia has not seen a war in the past 36 years since the end of the Sino-Vietnam War in 1979,” said Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC, in his opening remarks. “Asia looks peaceful on the surface. But the reality in East Asia is that tensions are rising due to the struggle for primacy between the United States and China.
The two superpowers are threatening peace in the region by continuing their race in state-of-the-art military armament.”

He added that “China’s ambition to include the South China Sea in its jurisdiction is stirring up physical restraints by the United States.”

Hong pointed out that the political and military competition between the United States and China has spread to the realm of the economy, with China starting an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the United States and Japan backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which covers 40 percent of the global economy.

“If the AIIB and the TPP are purely economic agreements with no political motives, East Asian nations would welcome them with open arms,” he said. But that is not the case. “Asians are harboring both enthusiasm and concern, and wary at the same time.”

Hong continued, “The people of East Asia and Asia as a whole cannot leave their collective fate in the hands of the two superpowers. It is time for Asia to have its voice heard.”

Chun Yung-woo, a former national security advisor and former ambassador to the United Kingdom, said on the issue of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, “Korea has more of a stake than other countries because we depend more than other countries on energy imports through the South China Sea… We cannot afford to hide behind others.”

He added in a session on regional security challenges that “I’m not worried about tension becoming armed conflict. The Senkaku/Diaoyu [islands in the East China Sea claimed by Tokyo and Beijing] dispute is more dangerous because it is a case of national egos and the resurgence of nationalism. This is a more highly charged issue in the longer term than the South China Sea.”

Chun voiced concern that “national egos can play a bigger role than rational thinking and national interest.”

Niblett, the moderator of the panel, pointed out, “In the U.K., there was a lot of discussion about what happens if things did get worse in the South China or East China Seas. The fact is that European countries
,like South Korea, would need to take sides.” He added that not taking sides may no longer be an option.

The second session addressed historical challenges, including the lack of resolution to the issue of the Japanese military’s forced recruitment of Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Yoshihide Soeya, a professor at Keio University, addressed the question of “why Japan cannot be like Germany” after World War II. He said that German and French reconciliation came through the European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually “created an environment which enabled historical reconciliation.” He said especially in light of the recent bilateral leaders’ summit that a two-track approach makes sense for Seoul and Tokyo, adding, “Korea and Japan’s cooperation is of paramount importance.”

“Trust is important,” he said, “but before that, there is a need for empathy.”

John Nilsson-Wright, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, said, “Empathy is important not only on the part of scholars and public commentators of the two countries but also on the part of officials, and recognizing that some issues - like the right of Japan to be able to intervene in security affairs that relate to the Korean Peninsula - could be incredibly sensitive in a Korean context.”

He added, “There were reports that the Japanese defense minister very recently suggested that this issue, Japan’s right to intervene in Korea, might be open to interpretation. I think a statement like that portrays a kind of lack of historical perspective and lack of recognizing that public statements can have a huge impact on negatively impacting bilateral cooperation.”

BY SARAH KIM, KOO YU-RIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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