▲Jeju Peace Institute President Suh Chung-ha Photo courtesy Jeju Peace Institute
Jeju Peace Institute President Suh Chung-ha told The Jeju Weekly that averting conflict on the Korean Peninsula will be “top of the agenda” at the 12th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity. Dialogue, said Suh, is more important than ever in this “age of uncertainty.”
The new JPI president, who took office last November, says that delegates at the ICC Jeju from May 31 to June 2 may present some “different perspectives and approaches” toward Northeast Asian security in light of Donald Trump’s pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program.
“Previously, we focused on preventing North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon, but now our attention will move to how to solve the perceived threat of North Korean nuclear weapons. That is why President Trump also emphasized that all options are on the table. Diplomacy and economic sanctions should be strengthened, but also military action cannot be excluded,” said Suh.
North Korea’s nuclear capability has “changed the playing ground” in Asia, said Suh, even leading to discussion of South Korea possibly developing its own nuclear weapons.
“This changes the strategic landscape, so I think that this indicates that we are in the era of uncertainty and we don’t know what the future holds,” he added.
In looking to the future, the former South Korean ambassador to Hungary and Singapore also hopes that the Jeju Forum provides a chance to heed the lessons of history. Korea has a lot to lose if the architecture for multilateralism is neglected as larger powers “retreat from the integrated world,” said Suh.
Suh hopes the Jeju Forum can contribute to boosting international cooperation to face the challenges of climate change with former US vice-president Al Gore participating in the World Leaders Session on June 1. The other key themes across the three days include security cooperation, nuclear proliferation, trade and renewable energy.
Unsurprisingly for a veteran of international diplomacy, Suh talks a lot about the values of cooperation. He stresses that it is now up to middle powers like Korea to stand up for multilateralism rather than neglect systems of international governance.
“Geopolitically, we are in a very sensitive location. We are surrounded by big powers... For the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, we need to build close relations with these surrounding powers.
But relations with these countries are not all there is to our foreign policy. We are seeing confrontation among the big powers and we are hearing the voices of the big powers — US President Trump, Chinese President Xi, Russia Putin, Japan Abe — but we need to hear the voices of the middle power countries,” said Suh.
For his first Jeju Forum since becoming JPI president, Suh has mined his Southeast Asian connections to ensure a strong ASEAN presence at the ICC Jeju. He believes that Korea can take the lead in middle power diplomacy through deepening ties with the region, especially following China’s response to THAAD deployment.
“I was in Singapore for three years so I am well aware of the emerging importance of ASEAN for Korea’s foreign policy and economy… As a survival strategy, relations with the big powers are maybe more important, but for values in relations, I would like to put more bearing on relations with ASEAN and middle power countries.”
Accordingly, ASEAN foreign ministers, senior Southeast Asian journalists and policymakers have been invited to a 50th-anniversary event for ASEAN’s foundation on May 31. “We will talk about mainly Korea-ASEAN relations. But we will also talk about ASEAN’s role for regional peace and prosperity, and areas in which ASEAN and Korea can collaborate,” he added.
In addition to its strong commitment to the United Nations, Korea has also taken the lead in MIKTA (created in 2013 by the foreign ministers of Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia) and ASEAN Plus Three (a forum which coordinates cooperation between ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea).
Suh, who calls himself a “strong supporter of globalization,” wants to ensure that Korea continues to coordinate this middle ground for middle powers, and he hopes that the Jeju Forum can accelerate cooperation.
He is cautious, however, and concedes that Brexit and Trump indicate that neoliberal globalization is a “broken system.” But rather than step back, he wants Korea to step up and fix the “holes in the fence” by working “closer than ever with ASEAN… to facilitate peace and prosperity.”
The Jeju Forum has high hopes to emulate Davos and Boao, but it struggles both in terms of relevance and reach. In addition to failing to attract heads of state — this year’s event comes too soon after the election for President Moon Jae-in’s attendance — it has struggled to make headlines outside of the Korean press.
Suh is addressing this through a “hardware and software approach.” Getting more coverage from top international journalists is the hardware upgrade, while the software upgrade involves covering topical issues for “deep and broad discussion that can resonate internationally,” said Suh.
When asked to provide some tangible results to justify Jeju’s moniker of “Island of World Peace,” the former diplomat points to continued multilateral cooperation for Northeast Asian peace and security at the Jeju Forum, and also the birth of the “Jeju Process” that helped inspire the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation initiative.
But world peace is a lofty goal, he concedes, and despite his experience, he asks for a little more time to harvest the fruits of Jeju’s labor.
“When the grapes are not ripe, then we cannot eat the grapes. So, we need to wait a little longer before they are ready to be picked.”
The 12th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity
May 31 to June 2
ICC Jeju, Jungmun
Hosted by Jeju Peace Institute, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, the East Asia Foundation.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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