Regional Community Requires More Proactive Approach to Global Leadership

Excerpt: East West Center President Charles Morrison discusses the need for a "mentality change" in discussing issues in the regional and international level. (1 min., 18 sec.)

HONG KONG, April 29, 2010 - The western world should view the rise of Asia as a positive challenge—and not a burden—says Charles Morrison, President of the East West Center.

Speaking at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Morrison stressed the need for global cooperation. "The challenge is to promote cooperative relations so this rise—which is good for the world as a whole—is something seen by society as healthy for the world," he said. "It does take Asia and the U.S. working together to do that."

During his career, Morrison has charted the exponential development of Asia. "I am actually very optimistic about much of the region. During my own lifetime—I first came out to Asia in 1969—see how much better people live, how much healthier and better educated they are, the better conditions of women, the protection of children. All kinds of things. That is all very good news."

The East-West Center is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress to strengthen relations and understanding between the U.S., Asia and the Pacific. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Morrison is clear that its role remains just as important today. "It's quite clear how they (trade and economic issues) relate to government relations. They create more tensions. China and the U.S. had much less tensions when they were worried about the Soviet Union than trade issues."

He pointed out that as nations become increasingly interdependent, new challenges have surfaced. "The world has changed an awful lot. The irony is increased interdependence could actually create more problems in international relationships because now Americans do worry about food standards in China whereas before 1980 they didn't worry because they didn't import food from China. On the other hand, their relationship has got so deep, it is difficult to imagine a serious military, or even, trade war. I think sensible elements on both sides will prevent that."

Morrison underscored that regional cooperation was possible on many levels and recognized the benefits of regional institutions like APEC and ASEAN, noting their positive influence on relations between Asian nations. "It brings leaders together on a regular basis - once a year - and those leaders don't want to have a bad outcome, so there is a great desire to deal with the problems existing and have a nice cooperative statement."

He said these key bodies should address issues, such as acid rain, at a regional level. "It was a big problem in northern Europe and was addressed by Europe. It is a big problem in East Asia and should be addressed in East Asia. They don't need Americans or Europeans to be in that organization."

Yet he concurred that there were problems that required much greater collaboration. "Climate change - they can not address that - that has to be addressed globally. But the region should have its own dialogue on how to address these issues."

Morrison urged the regional community to take a more proactive leadership role. "There is a tendency in this part of the world - because they are largely developing countries - to think in terms of reacting to global issues rather than in terms of global leadership and that mentality change needs to take place. To develop Asian ideas about how these issues are to be resolved and project them in a way not only for Asia's good but for the global good."

Reported by Penny Tang, Asia Society Hong Kong Center