KOREA NEWS Leaders of Korea and Japan discuss technology's future in...

Leaders of Korea and Japan discuss technology’s future in a historic meeting on campus

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On the last day of the APEC summit, Stanford hosted the Prime Minister of Japan, Kishida Fumio (right), and the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol (left), for a discussion about the future of science and technology that was moderated by Condoleezza Rice, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution. (Image credit: Rod Searcey)

The future of clean energy, quantum technology, and innovation were among the topics of discussion between Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at an event held at Stanford University.

The historic meeting, which took place on Nov. 17 during the last day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, was hosted by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and the Hoover Institution. It was one of seven convenings between the two leaders this year to strengthen bilateral relations between their countries. Such a meeting would have been unthinkable just over a year ago because of decades of tense relations. Since Yoon and Kishida took office, they have taken steps towards rapprochement and building trust that their predecessors could not achieve.

“We at Stanford are deeply honored to be hosting these two leaders on the same stage for another historic chapter in relations between their two countries,” said Michael McFaul, the director of FSI, in his opening remarks.

Condoleezza Rice, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution, moderated the discussion, which centered around innovation and the future of science and technology.

“Democratic allies need very much to discuss both the challenges and the opportunities that technologies bring,” said Rice, who served as the 66th secretary of state of the United States.

The event was one of several visits that saw dignitaries from Asia visiting the Stanford campus while they were in the Bay Area for the APEC summit in San Francisco.

Calls for collaboration

Balancing the risks and opportunities of technology was a recurring theme during the discussion between the leaders of Japan and South Korea, with each of them calling for increased collaboration and cooperation among countries with shared values.

“In the field of science and technology, no one country alone can drive innovation that will change the world,” said Kishida in his opening remarks.

For example, Kishida said, various countries now contribute key elements to innovations such as semiconductors, quantum computing, and generative AI.

“If there is one element missing, there will be no innovation,” Kishida said. “New ideas emerge through a multi-layered exchange between diverse people.”

Convening at Stanford

In Yoon’s opening remarks, he reflected on how Stanford is entwined with Korea’s own efforts to expand educational opportunities in the field of science and technology.

Yoon shared how in the 1960s, then-President Park Chung Hee reached out to the U.S. for help in cultivating South Korea’s engineering talent.

Frederick Terman – who served as dean of the School of Engineering from 1944 to 1958 and provost from 1955 to 1965 and is known as “the father of Silicon Valley” – visited Korea and compiled his observations in The Terman Report. This report, which included contributions from four other experts, led to the creation of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science in 1971, which later was renamed Korea Institute of Science and Technology, or “KIST.”

“At that time, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, but policies for establishing a scientific and technological state with KIST at the core has resulted in Korea achieving the current status of freedom and prosperity,” Yoon said. “Just like the motto of Stanford, the winds of freedom blew all the way across to Korea.”

Now, Yoon said he and Kishida are expanding the scope of Korea-Japan relations to include cultivating collaboration in science and technology in their diplomacy.

Technology can propel economic growth, creating new jobs and opportunities, Yoon said. But he also warned that technology can leave some people behind.

Yoon emphasized that the three countries must work together to reduce the digital divide and ensure that the world has fair access to new technologies – “and thereby contribute to the sustainable peace and prosperity of the international community through such trilateral cooperation,” he said.

Yoon also urged for trilateral cooperation in accelerating the pace of advancement towards carbon neutrality goals with carbon-free energy technologies such as nuclear power and hydrogen. Yoon also said he “is looking forward to proposing the establishment of a hydrogen ammonia global value chain in which Japan and Korea will be the main participants.”

Addressing the climate challenge

The leaders referenced equity, carbon neutrality, and clean energy again when Rice asked them about their plan to address the current climate challenge.

Yoon shared his concerns about the uneven effects of carbon emissions, pointing out how advanced economies have emitted more carbon dioxide compared to developing or low-developed countries, yet it has been the developing nations that are most negatively impacted.

“We have to cooperate internationally to help bridge the climate divide,” Yoon said.

Kishida cited the Doerr School of Sustainability – which was made possible through a generous gift by the engineer and venture capitalist John Doerr – as an example of entrepreneurs making investments in innovative, sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

The potential in quantum technology

Rice also asked the leaders about quantum technology, which the Biden administration has invested over $1 trillion in advancing.

Kishida said how the full transformation of quantum technology has yet to be imagined – “quantum technology is a complete game changer,” he said.

For example, Yoon said, quantum technology has the potential to disable encryption systems or wiretapping. He also pointed out how it can also lead to improvements in the detection of submarines – prompting new implications for national security.

Yoon and Kishida both saw opportunities for Japan, Korea, and the U.S. to work together, emphasizing how each country has strengths and weaknesses that can complement one another.

“Quantum technology, I believe, is the area where global cooperation is the most crucial because there is no one country in the world that has a complete understanding of it,” Yoon said.

The two leaders – Yoon (left) and Kishida (right) – were presented with bright red, Stanford baseball caps as gifts. “We understand you both like baseball so here’s hoping you find these baseball caps useful,” said Gi-Wook Shin, the director of APARC. (Image credit: Rod Searcey)

New mindset to advancing carbon neutrality

During the Q&A portion of the event, the leaders were asked how their countries are ensuring the world is united in solving the global climate crisis.

“Climate change is the biggest global challenge we face today and I think all countries share a common sense of crisis,” Kishida responded. Kishida emphasized Yoon’s earlier point about how each country experiences climate change differently – therefore, there must be “diverse pathways” to innovation that “transcend national borders.”

Yoon said that transitioning to carbon-free energy should not be viewed as a cost but rather as an investment in a new market and industry.

“It should be understood as an asset or an industry that would translate into this becoming a market,” said Yoon, who reiterated the need for cooperation to be fair and just. “We need to change our mindset.”

The event closed with remarks from Gi-Wook Shin, the director of APARC and a professor of sociology in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“This momentous occasion has built on deepening ties between Japan and the Republic of Korea,” said Shin. “We are so honored to be part of this journey.”

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