Keynote speech at the World Journalist Conference 2015
Venue: Lotte Hotel Seoul
Journalists from all over the world, officials of the Segye Ilbo and the Washington Times who have made painstaking efforts for his event, and other distinguished guests,
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak at this meaningful event. I sincerely hope that this event will provide an opportunity to think about the future of Northeast Asia, including Seoul.
A significant historical event occurred at Cecil, a Chinese restaurant in Seoul, in May 1995. Members of the press media labor unions representing 55,000 journalists of Korea and Japan announced a joint statement that they would strive for the development of collaborative relationships between the two countries and the settlement of a lasting peace in Northeast Asia. Around that time, a Korean-Japanese Journalist Symposium was also held on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. At that event, 300-plus journalists of the two countries, including about 130 Japanese journalists visiting Korea, agreed to the idea of working together to build peace and expand democracy in regions beyond the near-sighted interests of their countries. Interests of countries often collide with each other, as seen in the present relationship between Korea and Japan.
I think that a more constructive relationship can be built with a more positive involvement of journalists, civic organizations, and local governments, which are in a relatively free position from national interests. Indeed, journalists were making efforts to open a new page at a time when the freedom of press was not quite guaranteed. Attempts made by them have become the basis of a joint peace and prosperity in this part of the world. Today, I would like to talk about cities and urban diplomacy on that part of the path.
I have consistently thought that local-to-local and people-to-people diplomacy is as important as diplomacy between national governments. Collaboration and exchanges between people, regions, and cities is the key to a brighter future.
At present, urbanization is rapidly underway. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. It is estimated that 70% of humankind will live in cities by 2050. The number of large cities with a population of more than 10 million will increase by 12 by 2020. People come to cities to enjoy a better quality of life. Cities are becoming hubs of humankind’s diverse future options. Humankind’s greatest inventions have been created in cities.
Still, light is accompanied by shadow. Hardships faced by humankind are hidden behind a gorgeous-looking urban life. Cities must cope with hardships including poverty, pollution, worsening environment, decrease in energy, job shortages, economic inequality, housing shortages, and problems related to transportation and safety.
A scholars I greatly admire said, “Presidents are supposed to talk about principles, and mayors are supposed to pick up the trash.” I do my best to pick up trash where possible. A mayor is supposed to pay attention to details related to people’s everyday lives. How can we solve these problems? I think the answer is cooperation. I have seen that the power of cooperation is greater than that of competition. In every important moment of humankind, cooperation has changed the course of history. Let me talk about the problem of the environment, which is one of the most desperate problems faced by humankind, as an example that shows that the power of cooperation is greater than that of competition.
The ICLEI World Congress is being held in Seoul in April this year, with a thousand-plus member cities from 86 countries taking part. Their positive participation is the expression of the willingness to look for alternatives to environmental problems through cooperation among cities. I sincerely hope that this Congress will come up with more advanced ways of putting solid ideas into practice. Seoul and Beijing, for example, have reinforced mutual cooperation in problems of air quality. Representatives of 13 cities including Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo met in New York in September last year and expressed a resolve to cope with the problem of air pollution by setting targets for the reduction of air pollution in individual cities.
Today, you can see Bukhansan, Bugaksan, Inwangsan, Namsan, and Gwanaksan Mountains in Seoul clearly. In spring, however, there are days in which Seoul suffers from poor visibility due to yellow dust from China. A problem of such a magnitude cannot be solved by Seoul alone. To improve this situation, we invited representatives of 13 Asian cities over to set specific targets for reducing air pollution.
Last month, I paid a visit to Japan and discussed many problems, including urban safety, faced by both Seoul and Tokyo with Japanese dignitaries, including Tokyo Governor Masuzoe Yoichi. We agreed to work together to reach the goals our two cities share. At present, our efforts are faced with stumbling blocks like disagreements about history and complicated economic and international situations.
As far as I am concerned, I think that the people of BeSeTo (Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo) share a dream. They have a clear reason to face reality, look back on their history, and dream of a future of joint prosperity as those who understand that exchanges and cooperation between people and cities is the only option that can ensure our survival and happy life throughout history.
Let us stop for a moment and think about what happened in Europe. European countries were engaged in a series of wars in the past, including the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, the Wars of Roses between two royal houses of England, WWII, and others. During WWII, France and Germany were archenemies. Their politicians solved the relationship of conflict, but it was their people who consented to the proposals made by politicians and turned those proposals into a reality. Diplomatic leaders of the two countries like Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet opened the way, administrators came up with ideas for how to put plans into practice, and people provided support by agreeing to the ideas.
They agreed to launch a body named the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) for joint production and management of coal and steel, which were core resources for the both countries in April 1951. Eventually, it led to the EU. In this manner, countries in Europe agreed to work together through economic collaboration and came up with historic reconciliation.
What, then, about Asian countries? Will BeSeTo be able to open a way for joint peace and prosperity in this part of the world? And how will the power of the people willing to open that way be gathered? I think the answers to those questions lie with you, who are gathered here today.
The media and the people are supposed to help each other by encouraging each other to build power. One thing I have realized as Seoul Mayor is that I can do nothing alone. A mayor needs people’s assistance. I have realized that I need to obtain the media’s cooperation first to gain people’s assistance. I would like to ask the media to rally behind me concerning the effort for consolidation of BeSeTo. It is important for the media to convey the results of the exchanges and cooperation to the general public. It is the key to turning our dreams into a reality. Only the media and people of the three countries can play that role. The media of other countries, including the Washington Times, can also provide important assistance. Cooperation of the media can be a very decisive factor in accomplishing our dream.
In 2004, I paid a visit to unified Germany for three months, and I met many people. I came to a similar conclusion at that time; broadcast stations played a decisive role in the country’s unification. People of East Germany could watch and listened to TV and radio programs of West Germany. That way, they earnestly looked forward to new changes. That earnest desire accumulated, eventually leading to the reunification of the country. I believe that the press media is the most powerful means of consolidating the tripartite cooperation.
Members of the press media labor unions representing 55,000 journalists of Korea and Japan who gathered together at Chinese restaurant Cecil in Seoul 20 years ago planted a seed for the development of mutually cooperative relations and the settlement of peace in Northeast Asia. They did something amazing, despite, the poor environment for the press and tensions existing in the region.
There is no reason for us not to be able to do the same now. BeSeTo can do so based on our well-arranged network. We are in a desperate situation, but I believe that we can write a new chapter in history by working together to open a sustainable future path and find solutions to energy, environment, and urban problems. This will bring about joint peace and prosperity first in the region, then in the entire world.
We at the SMG will also do what we can toward having the dream of the people of BeSeTo adopted as an alternative model for the establishment of lasting peace in the regions. I would like the press media to rally in support of the efforts we will make.