Director's Forum with Korea Foundation President Yim Sung-joon
President of the Korea Foundation Ambassador Yim Sung-Joon spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center on June 6, 2007 to an audience of nearly 80 scholars and professionals specializing in Northeast Asia. Drawing on nearly 35 years of diplomatic experience throughout Asia, he shared his personal views on the prospects for regional cooperation in Northeast Asia.
Ambassador Yim stressed that instead of focusing exclusively on cultural and historical disputes, South Korea, China, and Japan should work together to tackle regional problems, including transnational crime, territorial disputes, environmental issues, and the North Korea nuclear issue. He recommended that for this to become a reality, that the three Northeast Asian countries overcome nationalist tendencies and initiate political confidence-building measures. However, looking to the future, he identified the need to expand and diversify regional cooperation initiatives to include Mongolia and North Korea. Using the example of South Korea's cooperation with Japan in hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Ambassador Yim expressed confidence that through continuous dialogue and cooperative action, the countries of Northeast Asia will be able to overcome their differences.
Commenting that the world has become more integrated than ever, Ambassador Yim emphasized the need for even greater economic cooperation in Northeast Asia. He described the strength of the Sino-South Korean economic relationship, highlighting the fact that China is now the Republic of Korea's (ROK) largest trading partner, having surpassed both the United States and Japan. With more than 50,000 South Korean students studying in China annually, the Ambassador expressed his hope that the realization of a free trade agreement between the two countries would enhance their economic relationship even more.
Regarding the ROK's relationship with Japan, Ambassador Yim applauded the close economic relationship that the two countries have developed over the years, but also stressed the ongoing need for dialogue to resolve contentious historical issues. In particular, the Ambassador pointed out that most Koreans are keenly aware of 'comfort women' issue and realize that historical disputes have hampered Sino-Japanese relations. He called for an intense trilateral dialogue to resolve the historical issues that continue to discourage cooperation and collaboration between the countries in Northeast Asia.
Speaking specifically about security concerns, Ambassador Yim noted that Northeast Asia lacks an organization that can effectively prevent military confrontations between countries in the region. He spoke of the need to create a security structure resembling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and emphasized that US support would be critical in creating this type of security apparatus. Looking ahead, he argued that South Korea, with its geographic location between China and Japan, can play a critical role in creating an environment conducive to dialogue, helping to facilitate strong multilateral relations between the countries in the region.