(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with participants' remarks, other details; CHANGES headline; ADDS photos)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, June 24 (Yonhap) -- Senior government officials and national security experts gathered at a Seoul forum Friday to pool their wisdom on ways to deal with multiple challenges facing the Korean Peninsula, ranging from Pyongyang's unrelenting saber-rattling to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a growing rivalry between the United States and China.
The symposium, co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency and the Ministry of Unification, opened at Lotte Hotel earlier in the day under the main theme of "U.S.-China-Russia Competition for Hegemony in the President Yoon Suk-yeol Era."
In his message to the event, Yoon said his government will respond firmly to North Korea's provocations while keeping the door open for dialogue.
"We will respond strictly and firmly together with the international community to North Korea's provocative actions that threaten people's lives and safety, and freedom and peace, in line with principles," he said in the remarks read by senior presidential secretary for communication Choi Young-bum. "However, we will always leave the door open for dialogue."
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, who serves as Seoul's top point man on Pyongyang, is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech.
During the first session, Daniel Russel, vice president for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, warned that North Korea is likely headed for another period of "fire and fury."
He said the recalcitrant regime's leader Kim Jong-un is well aware that he can now "count on China and Russia to tolerate and protect him more than ever before," as he virtually joined the meeting.
The North is apparently keeping close tabs on the international community's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow-Beijing ties and the Washington-Beijing stand-offs, he added.
Touching on South Korea-U.S. relations in light of the Joe Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, Russel said Seoul can be an "active partner" for Washington in various fields. He is known for expertise on regional issues, having worked as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under former President Barack Obama from 2013-2017.
Korean American Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) said, also speaking via videoconferencing, that the North Korean human rights issue should be handled together with other pending issues, including denuclearization. She stressed that South Korea and the U.S. should ratchet up pressure on the North's leader to abide by universal values.
Rep. Sung Il-jong of the ruling People Power Party and Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo from the main opposition Democratic Party, shared their own views as well on South Korea's relations with the U.S. and China in the midst of their intensifying hegemony war.
The second session will set the stage for discussions on the Yoon administration's strategies on inter-Korean relations and the Seoul-Washington alliance, and how to bring the North back to the negotiating table.
Ahn Ho-young, former South Korean ambassador to the U.S., will deliver a presentation on the 70-year history and future of the alliance. Former Ambassador to Russia Wi Sung-lac, who served as Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, plans to analyze the South's new policy direction unveiled at the Seoul summit talks between Yoon and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden last month.
Other attendees will include Kim Hyung-suk, former vice unification minister, and Jung Sung-chun, vice president at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).
Seong Ghi-hong, CEO and president of Yonhap News Agency, expressed hope the forum will provide an opportunity to "tackle the challenges facing us and gain wisdom to build the future fate of the Korean Peninsula."
"It is time to thoroughly assess the security and economic impact of the ever-changing security situations of the Korean Peninsula and the international community," he said.
On the role of Yonhap in its capacity as a public news agency, he said it will support South Korea's efforts to overcome the wave of diplomatic, security and economic crises, and contribute more to freedom, peace and prosperity worldwide.
This year's forum was livestreamed at https://www.onekorea2022.co.kr.
Talk of 'normalizing' GSOMIA raises hope, skepticism around Seoul-Tokyo ties
S. Korea, U.S., Japan close ranks amid growing N.K. threats
Yoon's agenda gets boost from ruling party's sweeping triumph in local elections
Yoon-Biden summit opens new, broader chapter for S. Korea-U.S. alliance
Yoon, Biden agree to broaden, deepen alliance amid N.K. threats, China's assertiveness