Rule Number One for an East Asian Community: Dont solve problems at J Global Forum

JoongAng Ilbo

J Global Forum

September 9, 2013


Director Pastreich served as a discussant for a panel on September 9th at the J Global Forum in Seoul hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo Media Group. This year’s J Global Forum was on the topic “A new Model for Regional Cooperation and Integration in East Asia.”

The panel was titled “Toward an East Asian Community: Challenges and Opportunities” and was a chance to come to some conclusions as to what was possible in terms of future integration in the region. The panel was chaired by Jusuf Wanandi, President Director of the Jakarta Post and featured a speech by David Pilling, Asia editor for the Financial Times. Panel members included Brahma Chellaney, Professor of the Centre for Policy Research in India, Oishi Itaru, Senior Staff Writer of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun in Tokyo and Ryu Jae-hoon, Editor of the Hankyoreh Shinmun in Seoul.



Director Pastreich stressed the need for creativity and imagination in formulating an Northeast Asian Community. He suggested that there were many new approaches to integration that could make the community unlike the European Union or other forerunners.



J Global Forum

September 9, 2013

Emanuel Pastreich


“Rule Number One for an East Asian Community: Don’t solve problems”


When we imagine a future East Asian Community, the first thing we should avoid is thinking we are building a new European Community and the European Union. Although there may be some things we can learn from Europe, this is a different age and we face different challenges. We can learn from their mistakes, of course, but a European Community formed in the face of a threat from the Soviet Union is fundamentally different from an East Asian Community formed in the face of climate change.

There is a famous phrase by the management guru Peter Drucker that I am fond of quoting when it comes to resolving the long-standing historical and political problems in East Asia.

“Don’t solve problems; Find new opportunities”

What Drucker meant by that phrase is clear. To dwell on what is not working, on what has gone badly in the past, is to become obsessed with problems themselves, and to become myopic. Such an approach limits imagination and can send us spinning off in a negative direction. But if you propose some new potentiality that we can all move towards, suddenly the problems may be resolved in the process as people are inspired by that potential and start to move towards this horizon.

Let me quote one more person: the Japanese philosopher Ogyu Sorai who played such an important role in the 18th century.

Ogyu Sorai once said, I paraphrase:


“There are two ways to play chess. The first way is to perfectly master the rules of chess and to play it with perfect control in all situations. The second way to play chess is to make up the rules by which chess is played.”


We often think about international relations in terms of playing by the established rules of trade and diplomacy with a certain bravado, rules that date back in Europe a few hundred years. But perhaps the true potential for the East Asian Community lies in making up a new set of rules, rules that although they seem rather unfamiliar to many, are in fact better aligned with the challenges of our age. I would argue that we face such fundamental challenges today that we must make up new rules, and the sooner we do so, the better.

We must think seriously about what exactly institutions will be in the 21st century and how they will relate to the people actually living on the ground. More often than not we have global institutions that consist of meetings at hotels and a few smart speeches—and then it are over and everyone goes home. How can we create institutions that are both global in scale and also tied into the local communities within each country? If the East Asian Community can find a solution to that problem, we will be leading the way to the future.

The East Asian Community can make local government the driving force in its efforts to promote collaboration and exchange, building a thick web between regions that is far stronger than a simple agreement between the capitals. It is clear that local government is playing an increasingly important role in international relations. To the degree that the East Asian Community makes that local level exchange central to its strategy, it experiment with new approaches to international collaboration at the local level that will make a stronger union. It can go far beyond the European Union, and be more successful.

We face unprecedented challenges from climate change and general environmental degradation in East Asia and around the world. One could even say that if the threat of the Soviet Union brought together NATO and the European Union, perhaps the environmental common threat can serve to bring together the East Asian Community. Perhaps something equivalent to NATO can be formed between China, Japan and Korea that is aimed at responding to climate change itself? Such a step towards a security architecture based on environmental issues would be unprecedented, but it could be the innovation that will change the whole game. Perhaps we can start with an environmental Six Party Talks.

The Fukushima crisis is an opportunity to try out this of cooperation, Japan does not have the resources and the full expertise (no one has) to respond long-term to the Fukushima crisis. We need to form an international coalition to develop the technologies, the strategies and the long-term solution to this pressing crisis. Korea can launch the initiative, but Japan, China, the United States and other nations should join the effort.

Technology is evolving rapidly and transforming our world at a tremendous speed. If properly directed, technology could be an effective means of reinforcing agreements for cooperation by setting up practical and effective means of exchange between institutions, communities and individuals. The Fukushima project is such an opportunity. If the East Asian Community can harness the potential of technology to build thick bonds between multiple groups in the nations of China, Japan and Korea, it can achieve unprecedented collaboration.

Finally, the East Asian Community can launch a wide range of initiatives to establish arms control agreements throughout the region. It was the efforts at arms control that brought the Cold War to an end and there is serious need to establish arms control protocols far beyond North Korea’s nuclear weapons.