Indo-Pacific leaders optimistic about post-pandemic era

Indo-Pacific leaders optimistic about post-pandemic era

Felix Kim

International cooperation to stop the spread of COVID-19, the emergence of nontraditional security threats and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula highlighted the ninth Seoul Defense Dialogue in early September 2020.

The three-day event, pictured, focused on the Indo-Pacific region and was live-streamed by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.

Despite the human suffering and economic damage linked to the pandemic, the region has reason to be optimistic about the future, said Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former ambassador to the United Nations. Building on the region’s strong pandemic response, he said, Indo-Pacific governments will lead a “resurgence of Asia.”

Former South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan spoke of the importance of stabilizing the global political situation in the pandemic’s wake “by forming an alliance of states, pressing China to comply with liberal international rules and simultaneously setting a global joint task.”

Pascal Boniface, director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, cited disease, cyber attacks, climate shocks, sanitation risks, energy competition and organized crime as nontraditional security threats facing the region.

Responding to these threats requires a more active military engagement, experts noted, adding that military roles must be clearly communicated to the public.

Shin Dong-gyu, professor of computer engineering at South Korea’s Sejong University, emphasized the growing need for “a system of cooperation between the government, military and industry” to deter and defend against cyber attacks.

Disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 pose a threat to military readiness, explained Thomas Cullison, an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Scaling back, simulating and postponing exercises has protected service members, he acknowledged, while stressing the need for multilateralism among national militaries.

“Now is the time when each country can unite to overcome the common threat,” he said.

South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in’s work promoting peace on the peninsula “on the basis of strong deterrence against external threats” was praised by Lee Sang-chul, former first vice chief of the National Security Office of Seoul’s presidential Blue House.

Cooperation between South Korea and the United States has been important in advancing the peace process, along with the involvement of the U.N. and the international community, said former U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Vincent Brooks. Cooperation with North Korea, he added, is required to achieve peace.

“The policy of maximum pressure” while still promoting North Korea’s inclusion in the international community “must go hand in hand,” he said.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.