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Conceptual Framework for International Relations
A Tale of Two Ambassadors and the UN: Choi Young-jin and John Bolton
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-24 15:33 (KST)   
The Ambassador likes to hear students' questions, Noga Malkin told me, as I arrived at Columbia University to hear a talk by Choi Young-jin, the Ambassador to the United Nations from the Republic of Korea. Malkin is a member of Toward Reconciliation, a student group at Columbia, which along with Columbia's Weatherhead East Asian Institute, sponsored Ambassador Choi's talk on Wednesday, April 19.

Ambassador Choi Young-jin
©2006 www.un.int
I mentioned that earlier that day, I had gone to hear a talk by John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. I had been disappointed by the way there had been only a limited period for questions. The questions, and Bolton's responses, had, in general, done little to shed light on the issues underlying the U.S. delegation's pressure on the U.N. for its version of U.N. Reform. Malkin said that she, too, had been disappointed with the question and answer period for the Bolton talk. I wondered how the program with Choi would compare with the earlier experience that day.

Choi was introduced by Prof. Ja-Youn Kim Haboush, a Professor of Korean Studies. She highlighted Choi's academic and policy background. Introducing his talk, which he titled "Northeast Asia in the 21st Century", Choi explained that the 21st century is an important new period, one not yet understood. We are living in a vastly different time from the past, he noted. Much of what we have learned from the past doesn't apply to this new set of conditions, he proposed. In the past, for example, it was profitable for one state to conquer another. This is a time, however, when the occupation of one state by another is more likely to be a burden than something profitable. He offered the example of Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, which gave Vietnam the burden of providing food for the Cambodian people. This led Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.

Choi proposed that a helpful way to look at our period is as a time characterized by the North-South Divide. The developed countries are the North and the struggling countries, the South. Choi explained that the problems of our times require a new conceptual framework. He was hopeful that students would be willing to look with a fresh perspective at the problems to find the needed conceptual framework.

There were many questions from the audience. Haboush chaired the question and answer period, calling on all those with questions. The Ambassador took the time to hear each of the questions and to respond to them all.

The first question was about the pressure from the U.S. delegation to the U.N. to apply business practices to reform the U.N. Choi explained that there were 191 countries belonging to the U.N. and that "every one is on the board of governors." Business principles do not apply, as the UN is a different kind of organization from any business. The strongest point of the U.N is its moral authority, Choi noted. The focus for any reform has to be on that moral authority, not on "efficiencies".

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In response to a question about whether it was possible to learn from Netizen democratic practices in South Korea to apply to world problems, Choi described how democracy in South Korea is an important development. It has to do with the encouragement of individual initiative. Consequently, "you cannot transplant democracy," he stated, explaining that every country or society has to work on its own for democracy.

When asked about whether China was likely to oppose unification between North and South Korea, Choi responded that he thought that China would support such unification. He referred to the history that China has in the past of not trying to determine internal policies within Korea.

A question was asked about how to deal with the problems of globalization. Choi compared the present period with the period during the early industrial revolution in Great Britain. At the time, he explained, there were those who advocated that factory owners had to be guided by "self-interest". "Self-interest" however, meant looking at short-term advantage, and was a philosophy detrimental to the long-term goals of Great Britain. Under "self interest", for example, children as young as four years of age were brought to work in sweat shops. This resulted in the devastation of the British population from the injuries and sickness suffered by the children. Choi referred to the factory owner Robert Owen, who advocated a philosophy of "enlightened self-interest" by promoting education for children and workers, thus making possible a healthier population.

Choi compared the need in our times for an "enlightened national interest" to replace a short-sighted "national interest." Such an "enlightened national interest", he explained, recognized the need, for example, to help poorer countries to prevent epidemics of diseases lest they spread to the wealthier countries.

Responding to a question about whether the U.N. realizing its millennium goals would benefit the world, Choi pointed out that the U.N. "doesn't have a single resource, not a penny." That the U.N. is dependent on what the member states agree to and that was why it was important that there be a policy of "enlightened national interest" to help the U.N. address the millennium goals. A critical problem facing the U.N. is how to narrow the economic gap between the developed nations and the less developed nations.

A question was asked about whether the people of South Korea would resent their taxes being used to supply rice or other forms of financial support to North Korea. Choi answered that North and South Korea were one country for thousands of years. Providing support to North Korea was not like helping another country since the people of North Korea were cousins or other blood relatives of the people of South Korea. It was more a question of whether the government of North Korea would accept such support.

The program was unusual since sufficient time was devoted to hearing and answering questions from the audience. This, in turn helped to encourage those in the audience to formulate their questions and to contribute them. This stood out in stark contrast with the earlier program with Bolton, where neither the questions nor answers helped to clarify the issues being presented. The process of welcoming a dialogue with the audience is perhaps a fundamental element for any conceptual framework for dealing with the problems of the 21st century. Thus Choi's presentation functioned not only as an interesting talk, but also as an example of a means to solve the problem he set out in his talk.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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