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‘The world needs a prosperous Northeast Asia’

Asia Society chief says Koreans need to reinforce their global leadership

Nov. 11, 2013 - 19:48 By Korea Herald
Despite its various challenges, Korea is more admired and welcomed in the global leadership forum than it realizes, according to the new chief of the Asia Society, a leading organization dedicated to the partnership of Asia and the United States.

“Sometimes, it is hard for a nation to see the way it is viewed in the world,” said Josette Sheeran, global president and CEO of Asia Society.

Asia Society president and CEO Josette Sheeran speaks at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of the organization’s Korea Center in Seoul on Thursday. (Asia Society)
Sheeran, who assumed her position in June this year, visited Korea last week to attend the fifth anniversary celebration of the organization’s Korea Center.

“Korea has overcome its postwar distresses and disadvantages as a relatively small-sized country in only a few decades,” she said.

“It is now the world’s 15th-biggest economy but Korean people, because of their ambition to move on further, seems to overlook the significance of their achievement.”

Of course, in order to gain momentum and jump into the next stage of development, Korea needs to reinforce its place in the global leadership forum, she admitted.

“But Korea long ago reached that stage in which it should no longer just follow other leading economies but become one of the determining voices in the world,” she said.

Also, Korea’s active participation in the global community is not just for its own sake but for the common prosperity of all, the CEO added.

“We are entering an era of multilateralism, which may no longer be dependent on bilateral relationships,” she said.

“Banded together by multi-party frames such as the APEC, TPP and various regional summits, the entire world actively needs a prosperous Northeast Asia.”

Asia Society was founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III, upon the vision to promote a better knowledge of Asia in the United States.

“The world has come to depend on the United States’ understanding of Asia and vice versa,” Sheeran said, quoting Asia Society’s founder.

In fact, the rise of Asia has been coming all along, since the 1970s when the U.S.’ transpacific trade caught up with its transatlantic, she explained.

“Still, we hear questions from Asia on whether the shift is really happening and from Europe as to why the U.S. is pivoting away,” she said.

“The truth is that most of the meaningful conversation is now initiated in Asia and we naturally came to appreciate this change of trend.”

Amid such awareness, Asia Society recently held a forum titled “From Silicon Valley to China,” seeking to promote the mutual understanding of U.S. society and the rising Chinese economy.

Asia’s focus on education, especially in mathematics and science, acted as its key growth engine but also created the general fear of failure, she said.

Silicon Valley, on the other hand, is a symbol of risk-taking and the U.S. spirit of adventure.

“Our task is to face these differences and then to bring the best practices together, with the help of our regional centers and the affiliated best thinkers,” the Asia Society chief said.

With the world’s attention fixed on Asia, it is true that Korea is challenged by big economies such as China and new-rising countries in the Southeast Asian region, Sheeran added.

“But Korea should remember its very unique experience, having risen from the aftermath of colonial rule and civil war to the center of the global economy in just a few decades,” she stressed.

A history of pain may either mark the country with an irrecoverable scar or offer it determination, according to the CEO.

“Korean people could continue to suffer but they decided to shake off the pain, to earn themselves respect,” she said.

“This determination and action is what Korea has to bring to the global forum.”

As former executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, Sheeran also underlined the importance of energy and food security, as well as Korea’s significance in the sector.

“Asia has a wide spectrum of food security level and Korea, having experienced both the low-end and high-end levels, offers a model example to many other nations,” she said.

Sheeran also expressed high hopes for the leadership of Korean President Park Geun-hye.

“Korea’s dynamic new president has brought much tension to the world, not only displaying the country’s economic and political weight but also opening a new door to female leadership,” she said.

The reason that the world’s paradigm shifted to Asia was that it sought to drift away from the conventional frame of destruction, she claimed.

“The female instinct is to build bridges, that is to promote communication, protect and create values,” she said.

“This whole new leadership could create a synergy effect for Korea in the long-term, though it is yet early to assert the outlooks.”

Profile of Josette Sheeran

By Bae Hyun-jung (