13th Forum 2000 Conference: “Special Panel: Current Political and Security Challenges in Asia”

Prague, Czech Republic

I am very pleased that we have been able to organize a panel focusing on Asia this year.

Over the past twenty years, my work at The Nippon Foundation has taken me all over the world. During this time I have seen and felt the world changing around me. Nowhere have I felt this change more than in Asia.

Asia today is not the Asia of two decades ago. The region has grown at three times the rate of the advanced economies. Today, while much of the world is still struggling to recover from the financial crisis, Asia is making an astonishing rebound and leading the way out of recession.

Asia’s growth has brought great benefits, not only to Asians, but also to the rest of the world. I am convinced that the region’s importance will only grow with time.

I believe that diversity is at the heart of Asia’s vitality, resilience, and potential. Asia is home to half the world’s population. It has more languages than any other region in the world. It possesses a myriad of beliefs, cultures, and traditions, an incredibly diverse eco-system and a spectacular array of landscapes.

The potential of this dynamic region seems boundless. But it also faces considerable challenges.

Asia’s rapid transformation has brought with it new problems: urbanization, the income divide, and environmental degradation. At the same time, age-old problems of poverty, epidemics, and human rights persist.

Many of these issues cannot be addressed effectively within borders. Boundaries from the national to the linguistic, cultural, political, institutional, and environmental all need to be negotiated. Diversity, one of Asia’s greatest assets, can at times serve to further complicate and magnify its challenges.

The Nippon Foundation has been working in partnership with governments, regional bodies, local NGOs, and educational institutions to address these challenges. For example, we have created regional centers of excellence for the visually impaired, hard of hearing and disabled. We promote regional cooperation to improve maritime security in the Malacca Straits. We are utilizing traditional medicine to make healthcare available to all. We are also engaged in addressing Asia’s disparate human resources needs in partnership with ASEAN. ASEAN is represented today by Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitswan, who will be sharing with us his vision for the region’s future in his keynote speech.

We also work to promote interfaith dialogue in Sri Lanka in partnership with Mr. Harsha Navaratne Kumar, Chairman of the Sewalanka Foundation. For many years, Mr. Harsha Kumar has played a key role in promoting community development and peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. He will be giving us his insights into recent developments in that country.

On our Panel we are also fortunate to have Dr. Toshimitsu Shigemura from Japan. Dr Shigemura is a former journalist and academic and is one of the world’s foremost experts on North Korea and East Asian security issues.

We are honored to have His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Sirivudh of Cambodia with us. Prince Norodom has served as Co-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia. He is now Privy Counselor to His Majesty and Member of Parliament.

Our panelists today are tackling a variety of issues in different areas and in different ways. They are all, however, engaged in challenges that are vital to the future of Asia. As we look to the future, I believe that what is vital to Asia is vital to the rest of the world.

I also believe that the lessons learned in dealing with the challenges Asia faces can greatly benefit other parts of the world.

I am convinced that no truly meaningful discussion about the future of our world can take place in the absence of Asia. It is my sincere hope, therefore, that we can continue to expand the participation of Asia at Forum 2000. I also hope that we can engage other regions of the world that have not been represented well enough in the past, as we continue to build on the important tradition of this forum.

I look forward to a productive session.

Now let me hand the microphone over to our moderator, Mr. Karel Kovanda, Deputy Director General, External Relations European Commission to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. Surin Pitswan, Secretary General of ASEAN.