In an event that should have drawn wider attention, urban research institutes representing five Asian megacities held an inaugural forum in Seoul last Friday. Participants in the first meeting of the Megacity Think Tanks Alliance discussed risks facing megacities in Asia and cooperative measures for resolving them.
The launch of MeTTA comes at a time when the need for sharing experience and knowledge to settle urban problems is growing amid the increasing transnational competition between cities.
More than a decade into the 21st century, city economies matter more than national ones. Cities, which have become a requirement for prosperity, will be the main drivers of economic growth. Global investors increasingly tend to view the world as a network of cities rather than a collection of countries.
In these circumstances, cities are vying to enhance their competitiveness and become part of the global economy. At the same time, however, megacities around the world share a range of challenges such as natural disasters, worsening pollution, rising crime and widening income and social inequality.
It was against this background that the Seoul Institute last year took the initiative to set up a network of urban research institutes in Asian metropolises to facilitate cooperation in sorting out common problems. The inaugural forum of MeTTA was attended by representatives from Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and Hanoi as well as Seoul.
The effective handling of transnational problems facing megacities will be possible only if the endeavor is not confined to national frameworks. If a new system of discussing and solving urban risks is set up between major Asian cities, it may lead to a change in the existing cooperative schemes in the region, most of which are swayed by national governments.
In this sense, MeTTA could become a valuable mechanism for promoting cooperation particularly among Northeast Asian countries, which have been at odds on the national level over historical and territorial issues.
Given this potential, it was regrettable that Tokyo, the world’s most populous city, was absent from last week’s gathering. Chinese officials are known to have strongly objected to inviting participants from the Japanese capital city to the event, reflecting the escalating rivalry between China and Japan.
It is unhelpful for any city to be excluded from the think tanks’ alliance aimed at enhancing cooperation in coping with urban challenges. Seoul seems to have had to respect China’s stance in order not to scuttle the inaugural MeTTA meeting. But it needs to play a coordinating role to allow Tokyo and other Japanese cities to join the forum during the process of expanding its membership.