We Can Have Peace in East Asia Through Regional Prosperity | Opinion

China and the U.S. are now hurtling by design or inadvertence into war, with no offramp or effective mechanism to prevent it. The present danger is acute for four reasons.

The political and military leadership in both countries are framing the conflict as a struggle for world hegemony, with China seeking to shift the balance of power and the U.S. resisting it. The chances of an erratic act based on miscalculation are increasing. President Xi Jinping or his generals could decide to invade Taiwan, which could precipitate a nuclear response from the U.S.

A random event can easily trigger calamitous misinterpretation like we saw back in 2021, when a Starlink satellite came dangerously close to colliding with the Chinese Space Station. Chinese military strategists might well have construed this event as an intentional act of war by the U.S. military.

China and the U.S. can also be dragged into war by the ambitions and recklessness of other countries, in particular North Korea and Russia. Kim Jong Un abetted by both countries could lob a missile into Japanese territorial waters, which happened recently.

We will not solve these complex problems with the same kind of thinking that produced them. What is needed is new thinking, and new values.

Evolutionary values and new modes of action can increase the chances of our collective survival. One promising pathway is the Gaiapolis Strategy, inspired in part by Mayors for Peace. It is the original vision of Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki to create a league of 10,000 cities by 2030 dedicated to preventing the next nuclear war. Mayors for Peace already engaged 8,200 member cities. The essential idea of Gaiapolis is to redefine urban and regional prosperity at the provincial, state, and local levels, which today is largely based on quantitative economic growth dominated by technology, to one that emphasizes enhanced quality of life and opportunity for all inhabitants.

Gaiapolis is based on a recognition of the benefits of local ownership, control, management, and financing of local and regional development. Gaiapolis cities and regions seek to deliver safe, green, resilient, energy efficient, inclusive, collaborative, and equitable habitats. They recognize and value wisdom, kindness, compassion, beauty, generosity, and altruism. They support the arts and culture, entertainment, sports, families, and play, and harmony with the natural world.

The U.S., Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China can all play a vital and creative role in ushering in this ecotopian vision.

For the past 30 years many cities in Asia, including Chinese cities, joined together in Gaiapolis’ predecessor, Technopolis, which designed and implemented largely successful policies based on the premise that “strategic technologies” can serve as catalysts of job creation and economic growth.

The Chinese government under Chair Deng Xiaoping pioneered the concept—along with Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) planners—of special economic development zones to catalyze local innovation and creativity. There are already in place international networks of collaborating cities, including integral, resilient, green, and compassionate cities networks. And the conditions are ripe for a new U.S.-Japan Evolutionary Partnership which would bring massive Japanese investment, especially around optical fiber infrastructure, to California (NTT already established a research center in Sunnyvale), which together with Japan offers the world’s third largest market. The countries of the East Asia region also have a unique opportunity to collaborate with the U.S. in designing and fostering new applications for wisdom and ethical artificial intelligence.

The realization of great visions begins with baby steps. In East Asia today there is a cornucopia of entrepreneurial talent. But less well developed is philanthropic venture capital, basic business management skills, and understanding and support from central authorities for local innovation. Public interest evangelism in business is in its infancy. These and other practical impediments can be effectively addressed by new educational and training programs.

To prevent us from going over the nuclear precipice in the early 21st century, what is urgently demanded is a shift upward in basic values toward compassion, courage, discernment, and forbearance. Increasing the quality of life by an enduring prosperity for every inhabitant of cities and regions within East Asia and the U.S. is the best antidote to war. It is our imaginative choice.

Julian Gresser was co-chair of the Japan Industrial Policy Group at the U.S. State Department in the Carter administration, and has been an adviser to China, Korea, and the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan. His latest book is How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: Evolutionary Values for an Age in Crisis.

Published in Newsweek, June 23, 2023

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