The very first Korea Global Forum (KGF) was held on September 9-10, 2010, in Seoul, Korea. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Unification and the Ilmin International Relations Institute and sponsored by Dong-A Ilbo, the Forum was created to foster international dialogue about three main issues: recent security developments in the Asia-Pacific region, issues and prospects for the North Korean nuclear problem, and peace on the Korean peninsula and global security architecture.
With the theme being “The Korean Question in a Regional and Global Context”, the Korea Global Forum is meant to be a consultative body of eleven countries: South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, England, France, Germany, Australia, India and Singapore, with former and present government representatives as well as private sector experts present.
As a Ministry of Unifications’ Overseas Student Correspondent who will be staying in Korea until December, I was given the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony and key note address on Thursday, September 9, along with three other Ministry of Unification student reporters.
After a few opening remarks by KGF President Seung-Ju Han, who expressed his wish to work towards a “soft landing of the Korean peninsula” through international collaboration, keynote speaker Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen took the podium. His speech was concise and pointed, urging open dialogue between countries and stressing the need for preparedness.
Following his speech was a moderated forum. Although it seems most, if not all the countries posed a question, the first was asked by Germany, beginning with an expression of thankfulness to the U.S. for its help in German unification, and then asking what East Asia can learn from Europe about placating mistrust between countries. Japan followed, pointing out that cooperation between Japan and South Korea has not reaches its full potential and asking how it can be advanced? Russia inquired whether it is best to be working towards Korean unification right now, or if we should strive for peaceful coexistence first. China wondered if perhaps the U.S. is being a little one-sided in its dealings with them.
A point that Secretary Cohen made about how, even though the U.S. may appear too engaged in other countries, how much worse it would be if the U.S. was a frugal superpower and allowed any country to fill in our gap, caught my attention. Stressing the need for stability, Secretary Cohen remarked that the U.S. has played a positive role, even if it is criticized for being perhaps a bit too interfering, and that the U.S. has the obligation to provide leadership even in times when it doesn’t want to. This put the U.S.’s involvement in other nations in a different light—if the U.S. did indeed pull out of most of the countries it is in, who would be there instead?
Secretary Cohen also remarked that, in his personal experience, forums like the KGF are needed and welcome additions to the global discussion. If countries don’t maintain relations often, demonization of the “other” and conflict ensues. He said we must maintain contact and understanding culture and history of each other, without “chauvinistic chest pounding”.
After lunch, I had the chance to meet the Assistant Counselor of the German Embassy in Korea, Matthias Vollert. (The separate article for this interview here.) He is responsible for Korea, China and Japan affairs, and had agreed to sit down for a quick interview about his impressions and Germany’s part in the Forum. His interest in Korea began 20 years ago, when he first learned about the four Asian Tigers.
“I had the opportunity to come to Seoul in 2001, and studied how South Korea managed to come to democracy and a market economy. I was quite impressed with the quick path Korea took. Since then I’m always following what’s going on, and of course, as a German, what is going on in the Korean peninsula is always interesting.”
Due to Germany’s history of being split then unified, I asked about what kind of advice Germany could give South Korea.
“The most important piece of advice is to be prepared. Unification can happen very quickly. But also it should be recognized that it cannot be organized in the manner you wish or in the way you planned. And also… I hope that more young people can embrace the idea and are willing to help make it possible.”
It was a great honor to be able to attend the Korea Global Forum. It was a pleasant and unexpected opportunity, and I was eager to see how an international caucus like this would be run. It was interesting to see the interaction of representatives from different countries and also that of the press. I liked the reiteration of the need for discourse that leads somewhere by Secretary Cohen.
I also feel very supportive of the Ministry of Unification and the Korea Global Forum. Making a space in which open dialogue can be encouraged and pursued is one of the best steps forward to coming up with a real plan or solution together. I hope it can really make a difference and come up with solutions to current and also possible future problems!