World should resist isolationism, tribalism: Obama

Former US president Barack Obama speaking in Seoul yesterday. He stressed the need to resolve conflicts through the rule of law and that " the future does not favour the strongman or the authoritarian".
Former US president Barack Obama speaking in Seoul yesterday. He stressed the need to resolve conflicts through the rule of law and that " the future does not favour the strongman or the authoritarian".PHOTO: THE CHOSUN ILBO

World leaders should work together to tackle rapid changes brought about by globalisation and technological advancement instead of caving in to the temptation of isolationism, former American president Barack Obama said.

Speaking at a leadership conference in Seoul yesterday, he underscored the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order as the world contends with critical challenges, including protectionism, extremism and new media.

"It's important to remember that the last time the world went through a big moment like this... the consequences of falling back into the comfort of tribes, the consequences of rising calls for nationalism and xenophobia, and the politics of us versus them, resulted in the first and second world wars," he said.

Mr Obama, who left the White House in January, also stressed the need to resolve conflicts such as territorial disputes through the rule of law.

In an obvious reference to China flexing its muscle in the South China Sea, he said the absence of international laws could escalate tensions if big countries exert their power over smaller neighbours.

China's rise, he said, would benefit everyone if it becomes "an increasing stakeholder in supporting the international order that has facilitated its rise".

"The future does not favour the strongman or the authoritarian. I believe that the liberal international order, upon which our countries have prospered... is the better path."

Mr Obama also urged the world to send a united message to North Korea that the unilateral pursuit of new weapons will not bring prosperity, noting that its closed society is in stark contrast to the "enormous progress" that the South has made on a rules-based international system built by the United States.

"So long as North Korea chooses to remain outside of the world order, they should face consequences," said Mr Obama, whose "strategic patience" policy towards North Korea has been criticised for failing to rein in the rogue state.

He also said while China, as Pyongyang's ally and economic lifeline, can press North Korea to change, it may be reluctant for fear of the ensuing refugee influx and implications of a unified Korea.

North Korea also figured in talks when Mr Obama met new South Korean President Moon Jae In, who is pushing for dialogue with Pyongyang alongside sanctions.

Yesterday's conference is organised by Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Into its eighth year, the two-day conference will see some 130 global leaders, experts and scholars gathered to discuss "new leadership in the era of hyper-uncertainty". Former British prime minister David Cameron will deliver a keynote speech today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'World should resist isolationism, tribalism: Obama'. Print Edition | Subscribe