Keynote Speech at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
Data September 25, 2014 | Venue Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), United States
Director Scott Snyder, CFR staff, and distinguished guests, it is my great pleasure to be here today. I sincerely appreciate you inviting me to the Council on Foreign Relations as a speaker.
I am here today as the mayor of Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea. Before I was elected as the mayor of Seoul, I worked for over 20 years to better the lives of ordinary people, to enhance human rights, and increase democracy by working with a large number of civic groups. Since my inauguration as mayor, I have dedicated myself to city administration, for which I haven’t had many chances to express my opinion on diplomacy, security, and problems between North and South Korea.
In this globalized age, however, it is now evident that diplomacy issues cannot be exclusively dealt with by national governments. The public diplomacy of local governments, particularly that of capital cities like Seoul, is playing a more important role than ever. Of course, the same goes for security as well.
Moreover, considering the fact that the Demilitarized Zone is only 40km away from Seoul, security is one of the biggest issues concerning Seoul citizens. I am also responsible for the Integrated Defense System of Seoul, and have the authority to declare disasters. In other words, diplomacy, security, and the relationship between North and South Korea are closely related to the wellbeing of the 10 million citizens of Seoul. Above all, I have always emphasized the importance of Collaborative Governance between the government and the private sector through my past NGO activities and my current duties in city administration.
I believe collaborative governance among local governments, the national government, and the private sector is essential for diplomacy, security, and unification.
Let me give you some examples. Last July, when relations between Korea and Japan were at their worst, I invited the governor of Tokyo to visit Seoul. Through that meeting, we not only agreed to strengthen exchanges between our two cities, but we also made a contribution to improving relations between our two countries. I also had a meeting with the mayor of Beijing to discuss common issues including air pollution in Northeast Asia, and we signed an agreement for mutual cooperation. As the mayor of Seoul, a global city, I will continue to engage in public diplomacy to win the hearts of citizens around the world.
The role of local governments is very significant for the improvement of North Korea-South Korea relations as well. Considering the crucial roles of the German local governments and NGOs in the unification of Germany, I think it is time for Korean local governments to assume more important roles in exchanges between the two Koreas. If the national government approves, I will carry out a variety of exchange projects with Pyongyang.
Prior to the unification of Germany, 62 East and West German cities were affiliated with each other, and about 700 cities hoped to be twinned with other cities. In the same way, I believe extensive exchanges among local governments in the two Koreas will make a great contribution to peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In 2011, as soon as I was inaugurated as the mayor of Seoul, I suggested sports and cultural exchanges with Pyongyang, including the resuming of suspended soccer games between Seoul and Pyongyang and music exchanges between the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and the Pyongyang Philharmonic Orchestra. I also suggested other exchange projects such as joint history research projects, urban planning cooperation, and economic cooperation projects modeled on the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. With these efforts, I hope Seoul will be twinned with Pyongyang.
Next, the purpose and the value of diplomacy, security, and unification are to protect human dignity, the root and fruit of the Korea-US alliance.
When I was a freshman at Seoul National University, I was imprisoned for protesting against the dictatorship and expelled from the university. In 1983, I began working as a civil-rights lawyer, and struggled to eradicate torture and reform the National Security Law, which violated human rights. I did these things because I believed the nation must protect human rights and dignity. I had learned about American democracy since I was a child, and that became the basis for my actions.
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea declares that, “All citizens shall be assured of human worth and dignity and have the right to pursue happiness,” and adds that, “It shall be the duty of the State to confirm and guarantee the fundamental and inviolable human rights of individuals.” Likewise, the United States Declaration of Independence also stipulates that, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Like the Republic of Korea, The United States is a democratic nation with a rich history. Both Korea and the United States regard human rights and dignity as core values of our very existence, values universal to all humankind. I think it is these common values of both Korea and the United States that keep the Korea-United States alliance strong in spite of outside threats. The alliance between our two nations was not made in a day, nor can it disappear in a day. I am certain that because Korea and the United States share those values, the alliance has remained firm.
In addition to our principles, we need to think practically, and to take strategic actions for diplomacy, security, and unification, and we cannot be afraid of change.
There are changes occurring in Asia. China is expanding its military power; the United States is rebalancing by moving its axis to Asia, and Japan is reinforcing its military. Moreover, North Korea is developing nuclear weapons and enhancing its ballistic missiles. South Korea is devising countermeasures against North Korean nuclear bombs and missiles. In the midst of this uncertainty and strategic distrust, the security situation is becoming increasingly worrisome in East Asia.
In order to create a virtuous cycle by breaking out of the historical vicious cycle in East Asia, where unfortunately multilateral cooperation has been relatively weak, we need to reshape our reality. We must build up trust amid the distrust, find a seed of hope in the despair, and in the end create a completely new paradigm for relations between nations in Asia.
Recently, I have seen two movies about American former president Abraham Lincoln, a man whom I deeply admire and regard as a political role model. One of them was “Killing Lincoln,” broadcasted by National Geographic, and the other was “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg.
In these movies, I saw Lincoln bluntly using people’s interests, amid people with hatred and prejudice, in order to pass a bill abolishing slavery. Lincoln did not blindly follow ideals, nor did he recklessly push forward suggestions with no consideration of the strategic timing and context of his actions. Following ideals, he advanced firmly, one step at a time, and solved critical problems for the country.
Korea has Silhak, a traditional study of practical science focusing on experience and objective truth. In reality, there are truth and solutions. A strong defense system and the Korea-US alliance are the keys to security on the Korean Peninsula. Considering this reality, we have to move forward. Believing in virtuous changes for North Korea, the Korean Peninsula, and East Asia, we should focus on finding a seed of change and nurturing it. In this way, we will finally be able to create sustainable peace and realize a new cooperation for the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.
Finally, leaders and citizens should make efforts together in order to be consistent in carrying out policies and building up trust. The most serious problem in Korea-Japan relations is the attitude and response of Japan to history. It will be difficult to establish trust in the relations between the two nations unless Japan confronts history and reflects critically on its invasion of Korea.
As for North and South Korea, relations have broken down completely with the exception of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. To break through this situation, leaders from the two Koreas must endeavor to realize what they agreed to do in the past. Trust can be established by consistently fulfilling what we agreed to do and carrying out policies according to our agreements. In this manner, we can prevent relations between North and South Korea from becoming worse.
Many people think the unification of Germany was achieved in a day, but I do not agree. As you know, Chancellor Brandt of the Social Democratic Party of Germany carried out the New Eastern Policy, and continuously promoted the exchange of human and material resources with East Germany. Even when the Christian Democratic Union of Germany took the government, West Germany continued to pursue the New Eastern Policy toward East Germany. The consistent policy, which continued despite the shift of regimes, and the trust established by exchanges and cooperation finally realized de jure unification through de facto unification.
As trust is the basis for all nations, it is also crucial for diplomacy. In building up trust, not only the government but also the citizens play a significant role. What matters is who is going to lead the process of building up trust. The party with more power and more confidence cannot but lead the process. I think South Korea, which is superior to North Korea in many fields, and the United States, the most powerful country in the world, should hold out their hands first and help North Korea to change, leading the process. Only in this manner can South Korea and the United States lead the denuclearization and the peaceful unification on the Korean Peninsula. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a saying in the West, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Germany achieved its unification in a relatively secure period, the early 1990s. In today’s Europe, Germany may not have been able to achieve unification.
By next year, it will have been 70 years since the Korean Peninsula was divided into the two Koreas. With this long period of being divided, there are now more differences between the two countries than similarities. Looking back on Korean history, there have always been opportunities for unification, but history teaches us that we do not have much time left for improving North-South Korea relations and achieving unification. I am afraid that by losing all opportunities, the Korean Peninsula will be forever weakened by being divided amid the conflicts in Northeast Asia.
In history, the Korean War was a war of Northeast Asia, and the division on the Korean Peninsula was the division of Northeast Asia. Likewise, peace on the Korean Peninsula will be peace in Northeast Asia, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula will be prosperity in Northeast Asia. A unified Korea based on peace will be a reliable friend to the United States as always. A unified Korea embracing human dignity and democracy will be a great boon for not only Northeast Asia but also for the entire world. Thank you.