Forum draws attention to connectivity across Eurasia

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Forum draws attention to connectivity across Eurasia

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Key participants of the J Global-Chatham House-Future Consensus Institute Forum 2016, where politicians, lawmakers, diplomats, scholars, journalists and students engaged in dialogue on a new strategy for enhancing Asian and European cooperation, take a commemorative photo at the Westin Chosun Hotel Wednesday. [KIM SANG-SEON]

Politicians and thought leaders around the world emphasized the importance of Eurasian connectivity amid a growing trend toward isolationism and continued regional security tensions at a global forum held in Seoul on Monday.

“What is most needed in the cooperation between Asia and Europe for the next generation is political leadership for international cooperation,” said Taro Aso, Japanese deputy prime minister and minister of finance, in his keynote address at the J Global-Chatham House-Future Consensus Institute Forum 2016, which took place at the Westin Chosun Hotel.

Some 300 global politicians, lawmakers, diplomats, scholars, journalists and students took part in the forum, which addressed the potential in connecting the Eurasian continent and promoting integration, particularly in the wake of the Untied Kingdom’s Brexit referendum to leave the European Union, marking a turning away from globalization, and the North Korea nuclear issue, barring regional cooperation and stability.

Aso pointed to Brexit as one of the factors that is contributing to tensions in global cooperation opposed to domestic policy. He continued to put particular emphasis on “connectivity,” pointing out that “connecting the Eurasian continent with other areas and strengthening cooperation will benefit both Asia and Europe.”

The annual convention, launched in 2014, is organized by the JoongAng Ilbo, JTBC and Yumin Cultural Foundation in partnership with the London-based think tank Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, as well as Korean think tanks “Yeosijae” Future Consensus Institute and Gyeonggi Research Institute. This year, the forum’s theme is “Strategy and Vision for 21st Century Eurasia: Enhancing Asian-European Cooperation.”

“We are uncertain where Europe will be in 12 months’ time,” said British politician Catherine Ashton, a former EU high representative. “We can be optimistic or pessimistic, but we cannot be certain; Brexit changed all that.”

She described three major reasons behind the Brexit decision: the question of freedom of movement, independence and the notion that money could be bettered used on domestic needs. Ashton recalled when Brexit took place, “Some in the U.K. saw it as a drawbridge-up moment.” But she countered that rather than an isolationist move, she said what the majority of the people of Britain saw it as was “a chance or process of reevaluation, control, destiny being determined domestically, but not a desire to be alone.”

She added, “Collaboration is everything and there are no big issues that can be resolved without it.” Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC, said in his opening remarks that in the past, developing countries were usually the ones apathetic to globalization, “But recently, we have seen an entirely new opposition to globalization.”

Washington, Hong pointed out, is “exhibiting a blatant shift toward trade protectionism and neo-isolationism,” as displayed in the U.S. presidential race, while in June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, shocking the world.

The former Korean ambassador to the United States said, “The root of these surprising changes is the global economic recession.”

China’s “Go West” strategy and One Belt, One Road policy, Russia’s New Far East Policy and South Korea’s Eurasian Initiative all stress the need for cooperation between Eurasia’s east and west, though there remains one key obstacle: Pyongyang.

Hong continued, “I believe Eurasian cooperation will be complete when North Korea, now so isolated that it’s a virtual island, opens its doors to join the international community.”

Other participants of the forum include former British Trade Minister Stephen Green, former group chairman of HSBC Holdings; Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House; Anne Krueger, former first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and former deputy prime minister Lee Hun-jai, chairman of the Future Consensus Institute.

There were three sessions to the forum titled “Strengthening European-Asian Cooperation,” “Confronting Strategic and Political Risk in East Asia,” and “Eurasia and Combatting the Challenges of Neo-Isolationism.”

Andrey Gubin, head of the research program at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, emphasized in the first session the potential for providing momentum to build a single Eurasian economic bloc with an integrated transportation system and shared market regulations. But he also pointed out that “many Asian countries are not willing to give up sovereignty,” which can be an impediment to such integration.

Hu Angang, a professor at Tsinghua University, likewise emphasized China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy to respond to anti-globalization.

But regional experts were split on the urgency of North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said China is “not in a hurry” to act on the North Korean nuclear issue, especially taking into light South Korea’s decision to deploy the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, which Beijing has protested.

He argued to “be patient and wait” until “conditions are met for taking more assertive action.” However, Jia added, “The relationship between North Korea and China changed, and increasingly China will deal with North Korea on the basis of national interest rather than ideology or fantasized friendship.”

He further pointed out that with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s policy of nuclear development, “it is difficult to imagine how long he will manage to stay in power this way,” adding Pyongyang has the choice to head toward “peace and economic development or a political collapse.”

Unlike Jia, Masahiro Akiyama, president of Akiyama Association and former president of Tokyo Foundation, and Lee Hee-ok, professor of Sungkyunkwan University, both highlighted the urgency of North Korea’s nuclear threat, especially in light of its fifth nuclear test last month. Lee said of China, “Only when they have influence and do not use influence can they maintain that influence. Rather than resolve the issue, it manages the issue. China is a chair to the six-party talks, and if it takes action, it can ... resolve the issue.”

John Nilsson-Wright, head of Chatham House’s Asia Program, and Francois Godement, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia and China Programme, both called the possibility of the nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan “catastrophic.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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