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Peace and security in northeast Asia (18 November 2006)



While Korea is the most acute, it is not the only risk facing the peace and security of northeast Asia. Competing territorial claims over some of the small island areas of the region have escalated as the potential value of their offshore resources becomes more evident.

Speech by Maurice Strong at Shenzhen Forum on "Building a Harmonious Society: Social Responsibility", Sustainable Development and Peace.

I am pleased to have this opportunity of returning to dynamic Shenzhen, the pioneering city of China's reform as a socialist market economy, this forum is addressing issues that are of critical importance to the future of China, this region and the world illuminating the new model of development which China is creating. I congratulate the sponsors, the Shenzhen Municipal People's Government and China Association of Productivity Science and appreciate the opportunity of sharing some of my thoughts on these issues with you.

I am pleased, too, to be here in the accompany representatives of the United Nations. 1 know that Mr. Fred Dubee, Special Advisor to U.N. General-Secretary Kofi Annan for the Global Compact was looking forward to participating in this Forum and regrets very much that he is not able to be with us.

China's leaders have clearly stressed that its unprecedented economic growth has been accompanied by a new generation of challenges and risks that will be decisive in shaping China's future. President Hu Jin Tao and the CPC at its 16th Congress have fully recognized this in his wise response to this challenge, calling for China to construct a harmonious society, people-oriented, guided by science, and based on a positive synthesis between the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of the development process. China's leaders recognize, too, that in establishing the goals and setting the directions and priorities for China, their implementation requires the support and engagement of all sectors of society, and none more than the business and corporate community, which is increasingly rising to manifest its social responsibilities.

Ethical and moral basis

The emerging global civilization is largely materialistic and must have an ethical and moral basis to be sustainable in meeting the needs and earning the support of the society it serves. For business corporations are the principal engines which drive the economy and largely determine the environmental and social impacts of economic growth, This is the reason that the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan established the Global Compact to enlist corporate leaders in support of ethical conduct and positive change in building harmonious societies. Under his leadership, too, the world's governments enacted the Millennium Development Goals committing them to the realization of eight key objectives as a blueprint for building a better world in this century. I am pleased to say that China was in the vanguard of support for both of these initiatives, for which it is setting an example in its own national development. So the theme of this summit is especially relevant and timely.

In my brief remarks here, I will focus primarily on two closely related issues that are essential to the risks and challenges that China faces and to the need for corporate social responsibility - the risks to peace, security, and the environment from the growing competition for natural resources and their wasteful and inefficient use. Competition for scare resources has always been a source of conflict. But in today's global, interdependent economy, competition for oil, natural gas, and other resources, and in many regions water, is reaching a scale and intensity that is posing a growing threat to global security, One of the most vulnerable "hotspots" is northeast Asia, in which China's interests are deeply engaged.

The recent testing of a nuclear device by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea added a new and more urgent dimension to the risks of resumption of the conflict that has divided the Korean Peninsula and remained unresolved for more than 50 years. The Armistice Agreement in 1953 which brought actual warfare to a halt provided for early negotiation of a peace treaty designed to bring permanent peace to the region, though negotiations to obtain such a treaty have not even begun.

Divided Korea

The opposing forces continue to confront each other across the demilitarized zone that divides Korea. American troops remain in command in the South under the banner of the United Nations. It is truly ironic that this war, which was waged under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, has not yet been resolved peacefully. Paradoxically, although all parties agree that the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons, their deep-seated distrust of each others' motives have prevented a resolution. Seeking such a resolution through the Six Party process led by China, even if frustrating, continues to be the indispensable key to a peaceful resolution. If there is any benefit to emerge from the current escalation of the crisis, it is that it may give new impetus to the search for a peaceful solution. A prerequisite of any peaceful settlement will be international support for revitalizing of the economy of the DPRK and enabling it to participate fully in both the benefits and responsibilities of membership in the international community and its institutions.

While Korea is the most acute, it is not the only risk facing the peace and security of northeast Asia. Competing territorial claims over some of the small island areas of the region have escalated as the potential value of their offshore resources becomes more evident. Competition by China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea for Russian oil and natural gas are an emerging source of tension; increases in transboundary environmental impacts and other interactions amongst neighbouring countries of the region all point to the need for more regional agreements and institutions to provide the means of fostering and facilitating the greater degree of cooperation that is needed to avoid conflict over these issues and ensure the future security and prosperity of the region. I am pleased to say that the recently formed Institute for Sustainability and Security in Northeast Asia at Peking University in Beijing offers to provide a significant center for cooperative research and dialogue in support of this process.

Recent tragic experiences have underscored the lessons of history that prevention of conflicts is a much better means of ensuring peace, security, and prosperity than going to war. This is especially true in a period where a combination of the sophisticated weaponry wielded by the most powerful nations and a proliferation of small arms available to people everywhere who feel aggrieved, make conflict so especially destructive. Indeed, the last century was the most savage in human history in terms of the number of people who died or suffered as a result of conflict, most of them civilians. That is not to say that the military is less essential, but that its role should be primarily one of ensuring peace and security, by contributing to education for peace, the development of a culture of peace, prevention of conflicts, and their peaceful resolution, as well as maintaining the capacity for warfare when that is necessary.

Increasing the capacity of the military to deal with natural disasters and search and rescue operations is another means of enhancing its contributions to internal peace and order and earning appreciation of the public. This is an example that all military establishments should follow. This will require a change in mindset, in training, and in the mandates of the military. Many are already in the process of effecting such changes. Again, China is setting an example in the ways it uses its military domestically as well as its increasing contributions to the peace-keeping and peace-building efforts of the United Nations.

China's rise

China's peaceful rise is not a threat to its neighbours but a guarantor of peace in the region. President Hu Jintao at the APEC meeting he is now attending has called for the commitment of all nations of the region to peaceful development and common prosperity.

I have been encouraged recently to hear suggestions that the defence industries of China, one of its most important corporate communists, is considering the possibilities of establishing a China Peace Foundation, which would support the education, public awareness, research and analyses which to contribute to peace. I can think of no better way of manifesting the commitment of China's defence industry to conflict prevention, to peace, security, and harmony in the region and internal security and harmonious development at home.

The continuity and adaptability of Chinese civilization has enabled it to survive and progress through the many periods of tumult and change that have marked its history. This is an important source of the unique role of China in today's world and in shaping the world of tomorrow. Particularly impressive is the continuity of Chinese civilization, despite the many changes and difficulties it has experienced. This is nowhere better manifested than the manner in which the Chinese have continued to revere the philosophy of their great sage, Confucius, even in periods when his teachings were not in harmony with the prevailing political mode. The care and attention to documentation and respect of his lineage, as well as his works and ideas is especially notable. I am excited and encouraged at the re-emergence of his philosophies, which have always been a great source of influence on me.

Profound and radical changes

China's dynamic economic growth and the revival of its leadership in science and technology make it one of the principal agents of the profound and radical changes that are reshaping civilizations as we have known them. China has been in the vanguard of the revolution in communications and information technologies, particularly manifest in the internet, which has linked all traditional civilizations to the emerging global civilization. This is creating a totally new generation of opportunities and risks in an economy in which knowledge in its various manifestations is becoming the main source of added value and comparative advantage.

While there are many respects in which China would not wish to follow Japan's example, it can learn much from Japan's success in establishing the world's most efficient economy-efficient in its use of energy and materials and in the application of technology to increase added value and productivity. Improving the efficiency of its economy provides China with win-win opportunity. It is also a necessity to meet its objective of becoming a more harmonious and sustainable people-oriented society. China's transition to a knowledge economy requires more efficiency and systemic management in all its sectors and must be based on and guided by science, as its leaders have made clear.

People everywhere now have access to sources of information and knowledge and to each other on an unprecedented scale that enables them to tap into the rich storehouse of the world's accumulated knowledge and the diversity of its current opinion, and to make their own contribution to these. This enhances their own skills multiplies their reach and enables them to make common cause with others' wherever they may be in exercising their social responsibility.

A worldwide network is developing in which people can communicate directly with each other in areas of the common interest they share. This has profound implications for the political process and democratization, as well as economic and social development. People now can join together in special interest groups that transcend all boundaries. This will inevitably produce major changes in traditional political and governance systems. It also makes imperative, and makes possible, the building of a harmonious society which is the common interest and aspiration of all humankind. In rediscovering and revitalizing its ancient concept of Tian Ren He Yi (The unity of heaven and humanity), China can lead the way.