JEJUDO ISLAND ― Leading politicians and scholars on Thursday called on Asian states to strive harder to foster mutual trust, peace and stability, which have been undermined by intensifying geopolitical rivalries and threats from nuclear-ambitious North Korea.
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other high-profile figures made opening addresses at the ninth Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, expressing concerns over escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the unpredictable regime in Pyongyang.
Under the theme “Designing New Asia,” the three-day conference brought together some 3,600 experts, government officials and politicians from more than 50 countries to discuss security, education, culture, the environment and other issues.
Outlining a host of geopolitical challenges facing Asia, Gillard said that Pyongyang’s unpredictability and ambition for nuclear arms were one of the biggest hurdles to regional efforts to chart a “better, more secure and more prosperous future.”
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the ninth Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity on Jejudo Island, Thursday. (Jeju Forum)
“The new leader Kim Jong-un comes across as both dangerous and erratic. We do not know the limits of what he is capable of doing, from brutalizing his own people, to murdering his opponents, to developing his nuclear weapons,” she said.
Gillard argued that to face such a regime, the international community should stay “vigilant and resolute” to meet whatever could emerge from the provocative state.
“We do not know what he will do, but we have to be prepared for every contingency including the possibility of change within North Korea itself,” she said. “If the events of this century so far teach us anything, it is that even the most apparently entrenched regimes can fall quickly and with little warning. The so-called Arab Spring has shown us that.”
Along with North Korean threats, the former prime minister also pointed to China’s rise and escalating territorial rows in the South China Sea.
“The anxiety in the many diplomatic engagements about the South China Sea demonstrates that tension is at another level. But it is those diplomatic dialogues, bilaterally and through important multilateral forums like the East Asia Summit, that must be our focus,” she said.
Former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing underscored the importance of peace and stability in maintaining the region’s economic prosperity. But he stressed Beijing’s resolve to uphold China’s territorial sovereignty.
“On the issue of the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku in Japanese), China’s activities in the area are an entirely legitimate exercise of its sovereignty and jurisdiction on these islands, and should not be seen as an attempt to change the status quo,” he said in his opening address.
“It is our hope that relevant countries do not over-interpret and overreact to our legitimate actions. China stands ready to work with other countries in Asia to build a peaceful, prosperous and open Asia and uphold peace, stability and tranquility in Asia by continuously enhancing political mutual trust.”
In his welcoming speech, Gong Ro-myung, the chairman of the East Asia Foundation, expressed hopes that the Jeju forum would serve as a crucial conduit through which scholars and world leaders could explore viable ways to create a “new Asia.”
The annual forum consists of some 60 sessions on an array of issues including the future role of women, regional security cooperation, education, the environment and public diplomacy.
The joint organizers of the forum include Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, the International Peace Foundation and the East Asia Foundation.
The forum was launched in 2001 with the aim of reaching the status of the Davos Forum, an annual gathering of global political and business elites to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org