Impact Asia: What will happen after Asia’s rise?

What does it mean to inherit global leadership?
This was the question Professor Chung Min Lee put to 500 hand-picked future leaders at Harvard conference in Asia recently. Most of them from Asia and in their early 20s, Lee contends these young thinkers will inherit both the world’s future and its problems.
Professor Lee is dean of the Graduate School of International Studies and the Underwood International College at South Korea’s prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul.
He has served as the Republic of Korea’s ambassador for International Security Affairs and as member of Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s Foreign Policy Advisory Council.
He was speaking at the Harvard Project on Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) in Seoul. The following is extracted from his speech.

Even if Asia succeeds in all of its endeavours, it will create unparalleled, unprecedented problems for the world. Every-thing in Asia has implications for the world and vice versa. So by the time you become leaders in the private and public sector in the next 20 or 30 years all of these challenges will be yours.
Asia has grown ferociously over the past two or three decades. People have said Asia’s growth is linear, that it is relentless and that we will see hundreds of millions of Asians being lifted out of poverty. The last part is true.
But my main point is two-fold. First, the rise of Asia is not linear. There will be huge dislocations and bumps along the way.
Second, you must understand that Asia’s solutions equal global solutions. And Asia’s problems equal global problems. Asia is now joined at the hip with the rest of the world.
Many people simply don’t understand this. It’s not enough to tell the west, “You guys are gone, you’re losers, now it’s Asia’s turn.” You can’t just say, “This is China, India, Korea and Japan: the rest of you white people can go back home.”
Why? Because, number one, that is simply racist and, second, it’s factually untrue.
How many Asians do you know who are truly global leaders? How many Asian leaders really spend time thinking about global issues? How many of them really reach out for human rights? How many of Asia’s leaders spoke out about Libya in defence of freedom and democracy?
Earlier this year, President Barak Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and many other European leaders spoke out publicly on what was happening in Libya. Not single Asian leader did.
That, I think, is disaster. It’s time that Asians spoke out forcefully about democracy and human rights: not just in this region but across the world as well.
The rise of Asia is not new. In 1500, some 500-plus years ago, the world was dominated by the Chinese.
The world is re-emerging into multi-polar system that will have China, the US and Europe at the forefront. So we in Asia have our homework cut out for us.
How many of you really want to delve into the problems of Asia?
Over the next 40 years, China will need 35 new international airports. Some 50 cities will each be home to over five million people in China. As China urbanises rapidly it is going to suck up energy resources for development.
For me the key issue is, can Asia become wealthy, healthy and free at the same time? Can Asia become true democratic zone?
I believe firmly in Asia’s cultural heritages. I’ve lived in 10 countries. I’ve lived in Singapore, visited China many times, lived twice in Japan, and I’d be the last to say Asia doesn’t have its own intrinsic cultural value. We are Asian and we should be very proud of that.
But Asia must also stand up for human rights. Whether it’s North Korea, Burma or other countries throughout the region, Asian leaders – young leaders such as yourselves – must be concerned about human rights.
That’s why I reject the notion of so-called Asian values. I reject this exceptionalism that Asia simply cannot have both wealth and freedom. That’s bunch of baloney because the [South] Koreans, the Japanese and the Taiwanese have shown that Asia can be wealthy and free at the same time.
Over the past 150 years much of Asia has moved from conflict to cooperation. It’s remarkable transition.
In the 100-plus years since the first Opium War of the 1830s and ’40s and until the end of World War II, Asia knew basically three things: conflict, civil wars and endemic poverty. For most of Asia, that’s now thing of the past.
There are, however, huge reservoirs of tension in the region: on the Korean Peninsula, in the Taiwan Straits and in Kashmir, for example. These are key concerns.
Yet, writ large, I would argue that Asia has overcome its so-called conflict bubble. Still, that’s not enough. We must shape Asia and the world.
You’re probably most familiar with the parts of Asia on the right hand side of world maps: the countries from Singapore to the right.
This is the Asia that is basically freer: has free market, is tied to the world, has rapid growth, and whose citizens are highly mobile and global.
But the countries to the left of Singapore through to Afghanistan are in another part of Asia that will have huge repercussions and implications for these Asian countries to their east.
They’re Asia’s energy belt. If our part of Asia wants to grow, we have no choice but to work with this other part of Asia.
The problem is that most of us are very unfamiliar with that part of the world and, more importantly, they face huge domestic challenges including the fact that many of them are failed states.
Asia faces twin challenges which represent the two faces of the region’s rise. In essence, every single good thing about the world can be found in Asia. We have innovation, creative technologies, free markets and entrepreneurial leadership.
Yet, if you want to find every bad thing about the world it’s also here in Asia. We have high emissions – the greatest implications for climate change are happening here in Asia. Our region has high poverty demographics. The world’s five largest standing armies are in Asia, and we also have the world’s largest proliferators of arms.
All the major geopolitical hotspots are here. All the major territorial disputes of the world are here too.
Asia’s rise is not just about high-rise buildings, urban centres and exhibition halls. It’s about realising that Asian problems are here to stay unless all of you are able to provide solutions.
Is Asia’s future going to be robust, totally bust or turbulent? I would argue we’ll see middle-of-the-road scenario. It depends primarily on the choices that all of you make.
The first choice is around money. It’s great to make lots of money. I’m big fan of it. But I hope many of you will opt for careers other than in the private sector. That you will serve in NGOs, work in education and serve outside of your countries. That you will be concerned about human rights, poverty and all of the other issues that impact our human race.
Should you join Goldman Sachs or the World Food Programme? You can do both: make money first, then join the WFP.
Second, you must internalise global issues as though they were your own. In other words, there’s no difference any more between Swedish problem and Japanese one.
Certainly, for those of us who live in Asia there’s no difference between Chinese problem and Korean one. It’s one global problem.
Third, you must build demographic shifts into your thinking. If this room were the entire planet, in 30 years’ time one third more of these seats would need to be reserved for people who are yet to be born. We have to give them healthcare, educate and feed them.
Finally, we have to create and foster new values. I’m firm believer in human rights and democracy. In my lifetime, Asia has shown the world that we can build ourselves out of poverty but that’s not enough.
As Deng Xiaoping said, getting rich is glorious. But we need new paradigm, new vision for the world and for Asia; one that matches wealth and wellbeing for ourselves with wealth and wellbeing for the rest of

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