Byline: Ruth Le Pla
What does it mean to inherit global leadership?
This was the question Professor Chung Min Lee put to 500 hand-picked future leaders at a 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 a 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 a single Asian leader did.
That, I think, is a 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 a 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 a 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. …