Good Morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak on this distinguished panel about this important topic. As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that regional economic cooperation will play an important role in putting back together the pieces of a globalized economy that fosters growth and alleviates poverty.
Although regional economic integration in Northeast Asia has been slow out of the starting blocks, the necessity of regional economic cooperation is now recognized and enshrined in important sub-regional and regional pacts in Asia. The questions now are “whether and how” we will leverage the progress enshrined in these pacts to complete the process of forming an economic union in Northeast Asia.
With that as a framework, let me touch upon some key milestones.
Regional economic cooperation in Asia-Pacific is a relatively new phenomenon. But good progress has been made starting with the ASEAN Free Trade area in 1992, leading to the ASEAN Economic Community, call the AEC, in 2015, which seeks to create QUOTE “an integrated and connected regional economy within the global system.” UNQUOTE
Moreover, other regional organizations such as APEC, a cooperative government to government multinational trade forum, which includes as its members in addition to the nations of southeast Asia, China, Japan and Korea, the U.S., and even Russia and the Pacific coast countries of South America, also reinforce the trend toward regional integration.
But Unlike the EEC, the AEC is not (nor is APEC for that matter) a common market or a monetary union; they still have a lot of ground to cover in addressing other important regional issues besides trade; they do not establish supranational institutions such as the European Commission or the European Central Bank, and their charters do not provide for sanctioning members that do not follow through on agreements.
With respect to Northeast Asia, progress toward an economic union has stalled altogether, despite Korean administrations before the present one that lobbied strenuously for a trilateral Free Trade Agreement among the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan. There are many reasons for this, including ongoing political rivalries and tensions. For example:
- Japan’s economic retaliation against Korea over the decision by a South Korean Court holding Japan liable to pay damages to former Korean Comfort Women. That didn’t help those who had hoped economic relations could be divorced from political controversies;
- Other recollections of the atrocities of WWII also still rankle. And unresolved territorial disputes further stoke resentments;
- And the big question is: Can China convince her neighbors that her aims are not themselves hegemonistic? While it is perhaps not surprising or even per se threatening for China as a great power to wish to balance U.S. influence in the region, what is China’s vision for a peaceful Asian Community? Can China and Japan ever imagine themselves playing the role in an integrated Asian community that Germany and France play in the EU—as godfathers of the union and anchors of its stability and peace?
Despite these challenges, regional cooperation in Asia took a great leap forward in 2019 with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership among 15 nations, including the nations of Northeast Asia, except for North Korea. Such a pact was initially conceived as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but when the U.S. under Donald Trump dropped out in 2017, China stepped in.
The RCEP, once ratified by all the signatory nations, will be the largest free trade organization in the world, representing 29% of global gross domestic product. The RCEP substantially lowers tariffs, and new rules relating to the origin of manufactured products within the region will make supply chain management significantly less onerous. It is expected to generate $400 billion in new trade over a 10-year period.
But whether the pact will lead to deeper economic integration in Northeast Asia remains to be seen. For that to occur, as in Europe, it may require the nations and peoples of Northeast Asia to start to look past recent wrongs and begin to see themselves as sharing a common destiny.
It is here that there is a role for like-minded individuals and organizations in planting the seeds from which a true Asian economic community might grow.
Just as the EU is built on a common culture, East Asia’s profound historical ties — especially cultural, philosophical, religious and aesthetic ones — can be the basis for closer regional collaboration. Rather than focusing on the upheaval and crisis of the last two centuries, the focus should be on the preceding centuries of peaceful interchange and the potential for future peaceful interchange.
In a speech at the Sheraton Walker Hill Hotel in Korea in 1995, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who together with his wife Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, founded the predecessors of today’s sponsoring organization, the Universal Peace Federation, proclaimed that “An ideal world means coexisting politically, prospering together economically, and creating an ethical society of goodness.”
But how do we create such a dynamic?
In a speech in 1981 to the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences in Seoul, Korea, while discussing the need to close the gap between the rich and the poor, Reverend Moon said, “To overcome these problems we need to find a new solution beyond humanism. To accomplish the unity and reconciliation of the classes a center point of absolute value is needed.”
Such a center point of absolute value can be found in the sources of Asian tradition—filial piety, family and faith. Thus, to succeed, an Asian Pacific Union must evolve beyond just government-to-government relations and embrace the institutions of religion and civil society.
At an Asia Pacific Summit in 2019 in Phnom Penh sponsored by Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon-- the Universal Peace Federation, the Royal Government of Cambodia and others issued “The Phnom Penh Declaration”, a call to address the critical issues of our time by forming an Asia Pacific Union supported by governments and civil society. Among several visionary initiatives it called for “embodying the ideal of living for the sake of others to help people reconcile differences and overcome divisions and establish a culture of one global family.”
On the basis of the ideals and ideas expressed in The Phnom Penh Declaration, we should continue to advocate for a formal role for the world’s great spiritual traditions and peace-building NGOs in advising their respective national representatives to ASEAN, RCEP and other regional organizations in formulating proposals for greater regional cooperation.
It is a big task, a big dream. But that’s only the beginning.
As Reverend Moon in his same speech in 1981 to the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences said: “With Asia as its starting point, a realistic, united economic sphere could be established, connecting East and West, North and South in a new civilization. This would result in peace and a new world centering on God’s love, which is the absolute value.”