In high school, Sato Yoji pondered the nature of the self and he became fascinated by the Greek phrase “gnōthi seauton” — know thyself. The Japanese man’s journey in tackling this conundrum led him to create the One Asia Foundation, with the goal of bringing the continent together in peace and harmony.
Sato wants to break down the shields people subconsciously construct, much like the borders between nations across the Asian continent. Taking inspiration from the success of the European Union in building peace, the foundation was born in September 2010 with
a network of just four universities in Korea and Japan.
The foundation seeks to foster a generation of youth open to regional integration and peace by building a network of professors to support the cause of transcending ethnicity, religion and nationality.
This is a long-term vision, with results not expected until the present generation of students
reaches positions of power one or two decades hence. As the 4th One Asia Convention was held at the Jeju Grand Hotel, July 29 to Aug. 1, this academic network now includes almost 300 universities in around 30 countries. Across the five days of keynote speeches and roundtable discussions, diverse supporters of a unified Asia shared their visions for the future.
Moon Kook-hyun is one such visionary. The leader of the Creative Korea Party is renowned for bringing in the concept of “environmental management” to Korean business and is the father of Korea’s green movement, founding the “Keep Korea Green” campaign 31 years ago.
He believes that there is congruity between ecological values and building a shared identity, and even political union across the region.
“Starting with greening the Korean peninsula and Asia, we can work together and unite divided people with a shared green vision, very similar to the One Asia concept,” he said. “These national boundaries.... they are placed along the rivers, but the river still flows. Similarly, natural ecology is for all Asians... we should protect it together,” said Moon.
▲ Image taken from www.oneasia.or.jp/
Moon believes that ecology is a useful symbol for conceptualizing regional interdependence, highlighted when forest fires in Southeast Asia or desertification in central China lead to region-wide effects.
“Ecology is more easy to understand... as we can immediately see the importance. But as far as human rights and labor rights, sometimes it is a little more difficult,” he added.
That is why the One Asia Foundation begins with education, mostly through endowed courses at universities, but also through other means. Moon is a strong proponent of lifelong learning courses for those already in the workforce, but he also recognizes that investment in youth is the priority.
“There is an old saying, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. The older generation was a victim to biased, prejudiced, distorted education. But younger university students are still receptive and resilient. It is a strategic issue — do you have sufficient time and resources to change everybody? Then you have to choose, and I would rather invest in the younger generation,” he said.
Moon also believes that with the pace of change currently being witnessed, “One Asia” could come quicker than expected, particularly with the spread of
information sharing and social media.
“When we focus on recent escalating tensions, yes, there are concerns, but overall the long-term trend for the younger generation is for education and exposure to foreign overseas trends. We often say that these big changes need 100 years, but with new communication [technologies], it could happen within 60 years. But it will start at a small scale... and these will add up,” he said.
There were many others who shared Moon’s vision of a united Asia at the convention, including American citizen Kim Chin-kyung, president of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Kim has felt regional tensions more keenly than most, having once been sentenced to death by the Pyongyang regime.
“I was delivering food, village by village. They thought I was working for the CIA, spreading propaganda. He [Kim Jong-il] put me in prison, gave me a death sentence,” Kim said, matter-of-factly, before adding it was his values that freed him.
“I am not capitalist, I am not communist, I am lovist! It is not in the dictionary, but it soon will be,” he said. “I was only pardoned after I wrote my will, stating my wish to donate my body to Pyeongyang Medical School. I also told the US government not to take revenge for my death,” he said.
In what was quite a turnaround, Kim says he was even granted North Korean honorary citizenship in 2012, as he flashed his North Korean honorary citizenship:
“Kim Jong-il, three months before he died — 001 — the first ever honorary citizen, military commander. I demonstrated loveism.”
He sees this loveism reflected in the philosophy of the One Asia Foundation, and has great admiration for Chairman Sato. He hopes the Foundation can lead to region-wide unity and peace.
“I really hope we can make an Asian union. The difficulty is that Europe has one kind of integrity and values, and a similar philosophy and cultural background, but in Asia we are... philosophically and ethically very much different,” said Kim.
When asked how long he thinks the dream of a One Asia will take, Kim said: “Only God knows.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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