Speech at the First Annual Conference of CICA Non-Governmental Forum

H.E. Mr. Ehud Barak Former Prime Minister of the State of Israel
I would like first of all to thank you for inviting me for this important forum. I had been many times in Beijing, but for the first time in CICA. And I found both the idea and execution extremely important.
I am coming from a distant corner of Asia, from a country named Israel, about half of the population of Beijing, and about half percent of the size of China, but with a long history, and from a tough, troubled neighborhood. We have peace with our Egyptian neighbors, with our Jordanian neighbors. And we have a wide variety of common interests with the Arab world. But we are still in an unsolved conflict with our Palestinian neighbors. And on the background, there is the challenge of Iran. And we somehow fine ourselves in the eye of a storm, of a huge geopolitical earthquake that had not been seen in the region since the collapse of the Turkish Empire one hundred years ago. Borders are erased. And conflicts which are centuries old come once again to the surface. It covers our whole corner of Asia. The Arab spring within four years turned into Islamic winter. And all the issues are still on high temperatures.
But, in spite of these, we in Israel manage to turn our country into a startup nation, extremely vibrant economy, entrepreneurial spirit of the young generation, create hundreds of new startups every year. Israel has more companies listed in Nasdaq in New York, more than any other nation outside North America. We have those startups on a variety of arenas. It’s not just cyber security, or software, communication kind of software and so on, any area, life sciences, medical devices, treatment of water, extremely advanced agriculture, life sciences and so on. We invest huge fractions of our GDP compared to other nations in research and development and manage to create an ecosystem where people understand there is a need for unity in action but there is complete freedom of thought, of thinking; behind closed doors, in a brainstorming, there is no real hierarchy. The lieutenants, I was a general most of my life, the lieutenants are contesting the generals without any hesitation when explaining. In execution, there should be discipline. But in planning, every one mind is equal. The young student contests the senior professor for his ideas. We develop an environment where discussion and argument is part of life and if you don’t succeed, it is not necessarily a failure because you learn from what you will not succeed in doing. And within this culture, we are very successful. There are many Chinese delegations every week in Israel and many Israeli delegations here in China trying to look how can we cooperation with the fruits of our achievement and the fruits of your achievement and the fruits of your neighbors’ achievement in order to make the world likely better. It was here in Asia, even this country along the wide valleys of the great rivers of China as well as the great rivers of the Middle East and in ancient Persia, now Iran, where the great civilizations of Asia emerge. It was the first mankind’s civilizations. Together with the great civilization, the great religions emerge. And the seeds of what is known now as the diversity of human cultures. So the past belongs to Asia but now more and more the future belongs to Asia. Just a generation ago, the GDP of the United States, Europe and Japan, one Asian country, amounted to 60% of all GDP in the world. China and India together were about 7%. Not any more. Nowadays, the United States, Europe and Japan together going down from 60% to 37%. China and India alone, without the rest of Asia, already produce 25% and going upward. The potential for further growth is in Asia. The growth of trade will happen in Asia. And in this regard, the One Road One Belt policy announced by President Xi is a great event that will change, it takes time to implement the goodwill of all players, but it will change forever the nature of what happened in Asia and between Asia and the rest. The investment, infrastructure and development will happen mainly in Asia once again. And once again, the newly established bank, the AIIB, is a great idea. And it is not an incident that even the western powers except for one join. We might wait to see probably even Japan will join ultimately. Because truth talks for itself, and subsequently the genuine and real works. So Asia is the most important place and what will happen here will set the tone and direction, not just economically, but also gradually politically for the rest of the world. That would make what happens here so important. Sustainable security is a multifaceted objective and a complicated one. It includes national security and personal security, food and water security, energy security, both traditional and renewable, and health security. China all along history was a great example of a power which out of its sheer dimension, history and self-confidence developed an approach, well over most of known history, an inclusive, patient, tolerant approach to neighbors, trying to convince, being assertive but not aggressive, trying to convince rather than to impose. And it happens now in a very fine way under President Xi once again.
I will touch in a moment national security. But I want to draw your attention to the relationship between personal security and world order. I think that on our screen, radical terrorism and extremism is the no. 1 priority for the whole world. It is the only schedule common to all of us, to the Middle East, to Europe, to China, to Russia, to North America and to all other players. It has to do with the world order. It poses a threat to world order as well as to the personal security for all of us. There is a need for cooperation and coordination in the world, among all the governments. In terms of radical terrorism and extremism, exclusively, mostly among extremists in Islam, 99.99% of Muslims are law–abiding citizens who want a happy and better future for themselves, their families and their nations. But the minority of extremism turns the whole picture. We have ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We have Lashkar-e-Taiba in India, the Houthis Yemen, the al-Shabaab in Somali, the Boko Haram in Nigeria. We have Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the south, and I didn’t mention yet the other terrorist organizations. This is a resilient and most connected web of terror organizations. And it will take a lot of coordination in intelligence, in diplomacy, including trying to influence countries and governments who are giving certain support directly or indirectly to these organizations and coordination. And we need operational coordination and it will take 20 years, not 20 days or 20 months. But if we will have more than anything else an open-eyed, unflinching political will and readiness to coordinate among all of us, we can suppress it. It’s not impossible. But together with the active fight against radical terrorism and extremism, we have to draw our attention and put energy and resources into dealing with the root causes of these situations. What causes people to find themselves so ready to sacrifice their life to kill others. There is a need to deal with poverty, with frustration, infrastructure, coercion, discrimination of women and absence of proper education. In the long term, the ultimate weapon against extremism which is also the key for sustainability of peace is dealing with development of infrastructure and dealing directly with the root causes in then economic and social arena. In the long term, I believe, mainly through education. I think that many countries around Asia provide a great example, how just a single change, when all young women have high school education, it will change the whole society within a generation, with women highly educated, reduction of the rate of reproduction, the women can participate in the workforce, they can have their own career, the view within the nuclear family cell is listened to much more sincerely, and even if later on, you want to pull it back you cannot do it because they vote. Look at what happens in Malaysia, in Turkey, in Kazakhstan, in Azerbaijan, clearly China, India is getting into action. We are on the right way. But we have never lost sight of how tricky moving forward might be in the real world.
Two short remarks in order not to take too much time for my colleagues. Food security is basically a challenge for resource allocation on a regional scale. Take just for example, in Kazakhstan, there is more arable land than in whole China, but in order to extract the optimization from it, you need transportation, you need trade, and you need trust. But with these three elements, the same apply in the other direction with energy, in Turkmenistan, or Azerbaijan, or Iran or other places or the Gulf states, now we are already in the fourth generation I believe of energy pipes, but we need trust. In this regard, once again, the Silk Road and Belt and the AIIB will be great tools to leverage on to make it happen and with the Chinese record, and the regional record in execution, it will happen.
Health security as well as water security, which is through other development, through achievement, through GDP per capita. We for example in Israel, we solve the water issue by desalination. We desalinate more than half of the water directly from the sea. That will enable our neighbor, the Palestinians, which are on lower levels of GDP per capita, to use the other sources of water. When a nation which is 12 or 15 dollars GDP per capita, desalination and advanced processing of water, becomes affordable, the same applies to health. The American model of nationwide health care cannot work in Asia, nor can it afford it. Even the Scandinavian model cannot be afforded. We have to adopt a different approach to make it preventive, dealing with the people instead of in the hospital before they come there and making remote-control health care much available through the high development of communication, especially in China but in many countries as well.
National security is the source of friction and potential explosive. But the principle of CICA is exactly the right way to approach it in order to reduce the risks. No conflict, however complicated, like the one in Afghanistan, or the one in Kashmir and Jammu, or the one between us and the Palestinians, should deter us. The fact that it seems to be unsolvable doesn’t mean that it isn’t solvable. With leadership and enough attention and understanding of alternatives which are worth the balance could be found between your security and the needs of others, your dignity and the dignity of the others. And we are all human beings after all.
I want to summarize and say that the whole world is looking to China especially, when you deal with India, when you deal with Japan, when you hug neighbors all around, the wider Asia, people see hope in what you are doing. And it is a great source of motivation and support and the very trust you wins in the minds of people and leaders in government and outside of government, will help you to be more and more effective in the future. Leadership has always been about the courage to change what could and should be changed, the strength to accept what cannot or should not be changed and the wisdom to differentiate one from the other. Thank you very much.