- Speeches & Published Materials
[Incumbent] Session on Asia's Geopolitical Outlook at the WEF on ASEAN
*The panelists are, seated from the left, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh of Vietnam, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of the Republic of Korea, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono of Japan and Lynn Kuok of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
*This transcript only includes questions from the moderator and audience members, and Minister Kang's responses.
*A video of Minister Kang's remarks are available at the following link > http://bitly.kr/j9xd
*A video of the full session is available at the following link > https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-on-asean/sessions/asias-geopolitical-outlook
Moderator (Channel News Asia's Julie Yoo): So welcome, and thank you for joining us. I'd like to kickstart by posing this question to everyone here on the panel -- three key things that you are most concerned about, or you are watching out for, in Asia's geopolitics?
Minister Kang: Well, I think -- three things you asked for, and I think many of these issues are interrelated so they can be packaged into three key areas. Of course, from my government's point of view, getting traction on the denuclearization and peace process, that is very much in motion. It's a daily concern to get movement on this but if we compare where we were a year ago, I think we're in a much better situation. A year ago, we were faced with growing tension and confrontation with North Korea testing its six nuclear weapons tests and a series of missile testing as well. And as a result, the global community has responded with a series of sanctions resolutions, which remain in place, because these will remain in place until we see -- are assured of -- North Korea's denuclearization. Compared to that situation where we are today, after two South-North Korean summits, the first-ever US-North Korea summit, and through these summits, the three countries agreeing to work towards complete denuclearization, and by that we mean North Korea's complete denuclearization, and also agreeing to work towards a more stable peace regime to replace the armistice regime which is currently in effect -- so in the larger scheme of things we made huge process, but getting traction on the negotiations to get to that goal is a daily concern. We are currently preparing for a third summit meeting between my President and the Chairman of North Korea next week in Pyongyang, and hoping that this will be a significant step forward on denuclearization and peace.
Second point -- rising protectionism. And I think that's very much related to the rising nationalism in countries and doors closing. It's most visible in the trade area, but it is also visible in terms of the whole migration issue. I think in this age of globalization, people movement is a natural part of daily life, and I think the world has responded with openness, but in recent years, post-the migration crisis in Europe, we see this happening everywhere, and the doors are closing. And I think that will be a huge loss because co-prosperity in this globalization age very much depends on this exchange of people across borders. Obviously, you have to contain the negative side-effects of this, and that's our prerogative of national governments to control their borders. But we must do it in a way that leaves the doors as open as possible about the people exchange. So protectionism and rising nationalism and of course, the protectionist trends in the trade area is a particular concern. It's a concern for all of us who thrive on free and fair trade, but South Korea is very dependent on our external trade and economic relations, and so I think those of us who are for fair and free trade should make sure that this trend is countered with greater efforts to preserve the multilateral trading system.
And thirdly, we are promoting a new policy to strengthen our relations with our southern neighbors -- ASEAN, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. There are other competing, I think, initiatives in this area -- the Indo-Pacific Iniative, the One Belt and Road Initiative -- and it's good that we have these initiatives because it underscores the centrality of this region, the centrality of ASEAN, but we must ensure that these initiatives are promoted in a way that's complementary, that preserves the openness, the inclusivity and the transparency, and very much in line with established international norms.
Audience question: My question regards to the perspective of the all the panelists with regard to the free and open Indo-Pacific. Thank you.
Minister Kang: Could I just add to that, I think that I pretty much said in shorter terms what the Deputy Prime Minister said in terms of the Indo-Pacific -- the various versions of that depending upon the country, but it's critical that the fundamental principles of openness, inclusivity and transparency is what drives all of these initiatives. I think the centrality of ASEAN is also a fundamental element, and therefore, our New Southern Policy is certainly designed to work with ASEAN towards a generation of momentum for further growth in this Fourth Industrial Revolution age which means really utilizing the possibilities that technology offers us to enhance connectivity within ASEAN, to close the development gap within ASEAN, and we have sort of a lead experience in this area in the IT sector. Our experience in e-government, e-commerce and smart cities and smart factories I think will certainly be something that we can offer to address this challenge within ASEAN of connectivity and development gap.
So I think all of these initiatives really should focus on the centrality of ASEAN, and I think if we do so we have a shared grounding where we can then make sure that these initiatives are complementary.
Audience question: I think the biggest concern we have is the rising protectionism from the U.S. and I have question about, the U.S. is leaning toward more bilateral agreements, and at the same time, we have the TPP and RCEP going on. How could Asia be as one to be negotiating against the strong U.S. and to make sure that multilateralism will stay there?
Minister Kang: I think Minister Kono has been provided -- yes there are these protectionist trends, but there is also a huge push to further expand free and fair trade and the TPP initiative is certainly very important, and as he said, I certainly hope that my country will be able to join sooner rather than later, but there is also a lot of discussions going on to upgrade existing free trade agreements whether at the bilateral level or at the regional bloc level. So it's not all protectionist trends gathering steam, there's also a lot of efforts to preserve and expand the free and fair trade space.
I think President Jokowi said something very important I think at the plenary yesterday, which is that the Fourth Industrial Revolution provides us with an opportunity of a world where resources are not limited but unlimited, resources are not finite but infinite, because what the techonology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution enables us is to utilize, you know, to develop human resources to an extent that we were never able to do before with the traditional methods of education, but also use the material resources that we have in much smarter and efficient ways than we have ever been able to.
So that hugely opens up the available human as well as material resources that society can use, and I think we have huge potential here in Southeast Asia to really take grasp of that possibility that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has -- and I think somebody said, "Don't call it 'revolution,' call it 'liberation,'" and that's probably the better framing of the potential that this offers.
Of course, the pitfall is, as all technological breakthroughs pose, is that, if not channeled in the right way, and this is where governments come in, you cannot let these technologies evolve on their own; there has to be some regulatory framework to channel that into ways that benefit the whole of society. And that's good governance, that's good public policies, and that's basically the role of governments. But I think, you know, we should make sure that these new technological advances to not further exacerbate the development gaps within societies, between the poor and the rich, between men and women, and I think this is where policy thinking comes in.
Audience question: It is indeed that we are going to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But I think rather than a revolution, we need an evolution, understanding the complete ecosystem. One of the things I want to ask the panel is, it is a great potential, but how we are preparing our graduates, what are our education policies that enabling our graduates to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution that are good for the overall human development? And also, what are the best examples that we can take from here, from each countries, or what are each countries collaborating in order to support each other that we're investing in our future graduates?
Minister Kang: Could I just add one point to that? I think certainly it's a challenge for governments to take the possibilities and the challenge of the technology to design education policies to grow people who are fit for purpose, but also while maintaining their humanity along the way. But I think governments also have to be careful not to get in the way, and I'm thinking of K-pop. Everywhere I go, I'm just amazed at the amount of support and the enthusiasm that the Korean pop culture has created in so many different countries. And this is not because of any government policy, it's the creativity and the spontaneity of these young generation who are very agile at utilizing all the technological devices at hand. And so the government shouldn't get in their way. The government's work is to open new possibilities, but certainly to create a regulatory environment that harnesses that creativity rather than hinders that creativity. It's difficult -- it's extremely difficult, but that's, you know, that's why you're in government.
Audience question: We all look to academics and experts who underscore that multilateralism is probably the way forward, but it seems like bilateralism is the reality that we're living in right now. And since we have Minister Kang and Deputy Prime Minister Pham at the center of the stage, it would be interesting to hear about the South Korea-Vietnam relationship, how that bilateral relationship has served the region and where it might head to next.
Audience question: Could I address this to Minister Kang and Minister Kono? In the spirit of ASEAN centrality, may I address you as ASEAN+3 Foreign Ministers? Would you give us a sense of the what you perceive to be the trajectory of U.S.-China relations, and where does that leave you as the treaty allies of the United States?
Minister Kang: If I may answer the question on South Korea-Vietnamese, the relation, I think it's by all accounts mutually beneficial and growing. Vietnam is our largest trade partnership in ASEAN, largest destination for our investment, and largest destination for our visitors to this region. And I think there is like 7,000 or nearly 8,000 Korean businesses finding home here with the full support of the government here, and I think our approach to this relationship is one towards co-prosperity, and so, you know, fitting our engagement that it serves the purposes of the Vietnamese government and people.
And I think I could rest that question there, but the US-China relations, and if you look at just the trade side, it does look very at a moment of particular tension. But I think these are two big players in the global stage, with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge. And I think on the North Korean nuclear issue, they are -- they have converged, and both working towards a complete denuclearization, and I think there's a shared strategic interest in getting to North Korea's complete denuclearization. And this is because they are two of the five members of the UN Security Council -- the P5 Permanent Members who have the primary responsibility for peace and security issues around the globe. So I think you need to expand the context to see the two powers engaging with each other at moments. Certainly there are moments of tension, but I think there are also moments of strategic convergence.
Moderator: My final question to all the panelists, please keep it to one minute if you may, given all the developments we've discussed so far, do your assessment of the geopolitical outlook in Asia, is it more optimistic or pessimistic?
Minister Kang: Well that's always a very difficult question for me because the answer is different whether you're talking about today or yesterday or tomorrow or a week later or a month later. But I think given the primary foreign policy agenda on my plate at this point, which is North Korea's denuclearization and peace, I think I can be optimistic. And I think a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula that is wholly at peace will certainly be a great addition to the peace dynamics in this region as a whole.