The Meeting with the Korea Society
Date September 20, 2014 | Venue New York, the US
Honorable Senior Director of the Korea Society Thomas C. Hubbard, President Mark Minton, Vice President Sophia H. Kang, members of Korea Society, and distinguished guests, it is my pleasure to meet all of you. I am Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul. I sincerely appreciate your invitation and warm welcome.
Over the past 50 years, the Korea Society has been a reliable partner, serving as an important bridge in strengthening the Korea-US alliance and stimulating exchanges between our two countries in a variety of fields such as economy, trade, culture, and information.
In Korean, we have two proverbs: “New clothes are the best, but in terms of friends, old friends are the best.” We also say that, “A true friend isn’t made in a day.” I hope our friendship with the Korea Society, which has grown over the last 50 years, will continue to grow far into the future.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Korea has developed in an unprecedentedly short amount of time. It has achieved industrialization and democratization, a transformation known as the Miracle on the Han River. Seoul, the capital city of Korea, played a significant role in these achievements.
Seoul rose from the ashes of the Korean War, and has accomplished amazing feats. Seoul was selected as the 6th Global Power City, and ranked number one in the Global E-Governance Survey for its cutting-edge digital administration based on ICT. In the tourism industry, Seoul has been selected as one of Top 5 MICE Destinations for three consecutive years and the Best International Meetings Destination for two consecutive years. Far more than 10 million tourists visit Seoul every year. Seoul’s successful policies are being exported to 22 cities in 21 countries, and many countries around the world are coming to Seoul to learn. Nobody can deny that Seoul has now become a global city.
However, behind the rapid growth of Seoul, side effects and conflicts also exist. We cannot overlook or avoid the issues of regional imbalances, conflicts among classes, reckless development plans, and environmental pollution. As the result of only focusing on quantitative growth, Seoul became known for neglecting the most important value, people. We are now, therefore, facing another challenge.
In October 2011, amid the needs of the times for change, I was elected as the mayor of Seoul in a special election. The tradition that only officials or politicians were to be elected as the mayor was broken, and the fact that I, who had worked for civil society as a civil rights lawyer, a civic activist, and a social innovator, was elected was a huge change in and of itself.
For over 30 years, I fought against authoritarian governments for democracy and human rights. I pioneered a civil society, which was only in its infancy in Korea, for procedural democracy and the expansion of civil rights. I formed representative Korean civic groups including the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), Beautiful Store, the Beautiful Foundation, and the Hope Institute as a leader of civil society movements.
Seoul citizens’ trust in me was the result of their desire for change, their wishes for new politics, and their expectations for a new administration. Therefore, with the principle of democracy and the motto “Citizens are the Mayor,” I declared that I would be a mayor who would change the lives of citizens. Taking this as a primary principle, I am doing my best to innovate in the Seoul administration. I have implemented humanitarian policies regarding people as the owners of the city, and serving Seoul citizens as the owners of Seoul. I am also creating a city administration based on common sense, principles, rationality, and stability.
Seoul has created numerous policies, for example ‘Community Building,’ ‘Sharing City,’ ‘One Less Nuclear Power Plant,’ and ‘Crime Prevention City,’ all of which are solving many urban issues facing Seoul at the moment. These policies are transforming Seoul into a sustainable city where people live in harmony.
All of these efforts are being put forth by citizens, civil society, experts, and corporations together, not by Seoul alone. We are working together to resolve problems through communication, participation, and good governance.
Over the past three years, a solid bond of trust has been built between Seoul and its citizens through over 80 listening policy workshops, on-site mayoral offices in districts for one night and two days, over 120 on-site visits, disclosure of about 50,000 pieces of administration data, visitations to Seoul Citizens’ Hall by over 1.4 million people, participation in Speakers’ Corners by 2800 people, the Participatory Budget System, and Participatory Policy Expos. The disclosure of the Seoul administration information enhanced the transparency and responsibility of the government, leading to successful administrative innovation. The administration, which is open to and stands for the public, made it possible to create an unprecedentedly open administration, the so-called ‘Wikipedia Administration,’ a type of collective intelligence, which finally led to the realization of the motto, ‘Citizens are the Mayor.’ In this way, Seoul has been turning into a city of happiness focusing on coexistence and qualitative development.
Honorable ladies and gentlemen, many countries around the world are suffering from a variety of social problems and urban issues. Too many citizens have yet to escape from the shackles of poverty, falling victim to inequality and injustice.
Global warming and climate change issues have emerged as one of the biggest challenges to this age. The nuclear power plant issue highlighted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster forced us to reflect on our existing energy and environmental policies, and to create new policies in response. Citizens are also under the threat of natural disasters, crime, and insecure urban safety. High unemployment rates and income polarization are increasing relative deprivation, and a low birth rate and the resulting super aging society are driving us into an age of uncertainty.
These urban issues are not limited to a certain country or city. These issues exist in Seoul, New York, Tokyo, and other cities. They are now global issues the world must deal with together, beyond national borders. There is a saying, “Presidents talk about principles, but mayors pick up trash.” Cities have to take the initiative to tackle our urban problems.
Seoul and Beijing are collaborating to resolve air pollution, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), in which 1,000 cities of 81 countries participate, is working hard to build sustainable cities. These cooperative actions will become a great example for others.
Distinguished guests, I think cities should play a key role in diplomacy, security, and unification. Until now, the national government has served as a key leader in diplomacy, security, and unification; however, it is time for the country to transfer authority over certain fields and practical powers to local governments.
Especially on the Korean Peninsula, where a cold war paradigm still exists, the role of local governments in foreign and security affairs needs to change. Prior to the legal unification of Germany in 1990, Berlin was able to achieve de facto unification thanks to the effective exchanges between East and West Berlin along with other cities.
From urban issues, such as traffic, housing, and environmental problems, to cultural and sports events, East and West Germany interchanged and collaborated. Eventually, at last, the Berlin Wall was demolished.
Seoul is aiming to fulfill the dream of creating a city of happiness where quality of life is high and people live in harmony. Furthermore, Seoul hopes to take the lead on addressing global urban issues, and improving the exchange between South and North Korea as a peaceful city.
To make these dreams come true, a prerequisite is required: peace on the Korean Peninsula. This peace should be established and maintained based on democracy. At the center of this, the Korea-US alliance plays a key role.
Korea and the US have been sharing the same vision as a valuable alliance, not merely a collaborative alliance. Regarding human rights and dignity as the most important values, the two countries have been partners in strengthening the principles of liberal democracy and the market economy.
I hope the Korean Peninsula and the US can work together for peace and prosperity based on a much stronger Korea-US alliance. For that, the Korea Society is expected to take a more robust role in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul will also do its best for the cooperation, development, and realization of a strong alliance between the two countries. Again, I deeply appreciate the invitation to this meaningful meeting, and I wish all of you good health and happiness. Thank you.