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[Editorial] Pres. Lee`s `New Asia Initiative`

Posted March. 09, 2009 08:33,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday said he wants to expand Korea’s diplomatic horizon from Northeast Asia to the broader Asia Pacific region including Southeast, Central Asia and Southwest Asia and the South Pacific. Under his “New Asia Initiative,” he seeks to deepen cooperation and promote co-prosperity within Asia in dealing not only with pending issues such as the financial crisis and green growth but also with economic, security and culture. The new initiative reflects President Lee’s confidence in diversifying his diplomatic focus to all of Asia based on the success of his diplomatic efforts centered on the four regional superpowers in his first year.

Asia is home to 3.8 billion people, accounting for 52 percent of the world’s population, 21 percent (10.7 trillion dollars) of global GDP, and 26 percent (eight trillion dollars) of global trade. Asian countries account for 48 percent of Korea’s trade and receive 53 percent of Korean investment. New Zealand and Australia responded positively when President Lee proposed free trade talks in his visit to the South Pacific. Indonesia has promised 200,000 hectares of forest for clean energy development. The commitment of the three countries clearly demonstrates the need to expand cooperation.

The “New Asia Initiative,” however, will not automatically make Korea a friend to all Asian nations overnight. Korea’s standing and influence in the region are not as strong as those of China and Japan. The success of the initiative accordingly lies in whether Korea can find areas where it can play a distinctive role that neither China nor Japan can offer.

Many Asian countries carry a sense of historical and geographical victimization toward China and Japan. Together with such historical and emotional consensus, Korea must take advantage of its strengths as a country positioned between superpowers and developing countries. Korea has already set a good example on this front. It has been working together with Australia and Indonesia as a Group of 20 nation to tackle the global economic crisis.

President Lee even said “Korea will represent Asia’s interests on the world stage,” but his administration should proceed with caution. Previous Korean governments made a huge fuss over becoming the hub of Northeast Asia, but their efforts failed to bring practical gains and even sparked a backlash in neighboring countries. The Lee administration has also received negative responses for publicly stressing its focus on diplomatic efforts to secure energy resources and restoring its alliance with the United States. President Lee must keep in mind that actions speak louder than words. Without specific action to support the new initiative, it is doomed to failure. The “New Asia Initiative” should be all about action, not rhetoric. Korea should strengthen its power while carrying out the responsibilities befitting its changing status in Asia.