The Quest for Peace and Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Beyond

Speech by H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Republic of Korea.

Address to Asia Society
New York
September 25, 2006

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for the kind introduction.

Dr. Desai, President of the Asia Society, Ambassador Holbrooke, Chairman of the Asia Society, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would first like to thank Dr. Desai, Ambassador Holbrooke and the Asia Society for inviting me to speak tonight. I remember well the very enjoyable evening I had with President Desai and Vice President Metzl in Seoul last July. I remain grateful for the exchange of insightful and informed views.

Today, I have a few topics that I want to discuss. But first, I would like to say a few words about the Asia Society and its unique contributions to Asia-US relations.

As we all know, when John Rockfeller III founded the Asia Society in 1956, he did so with the conviction that Americans needed to engage Asia on multiple fronts. In keeping with his philosophy and ideas, the Asia Society has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about Asia among Americans and to strengthen relations between Asia and the United States.

In an effort to deepen mutual understanding, the Asia Society has introduced many programs widely known for their excellence. In particular, I would like to applaud the annual Williamsburg Conference, which has become a forum for high-calibre strategic dialogue among policy-makers and opinion leaders throughout Asia and the United States.

This year, the Asia Society marks its 50th anniversary. Taking this opportunity, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Desai, Ambassador Holbrooke and all members of the Asia Society. The Society is celebrating its 50th birthday with the launch of many new initiatives, such as the " Asia 21 Young Leaders Forum". Korea is honored to host the first Forum in Seoul coming November. Prime Minister Han Myeong Sook will deliver a keynote speech at the Forum.

Another ambitious project will be the opening of the Asia Society Seoul Center in 2007. The launch of the Center will be, I am sure, a milestone that signals even closer and busier ties between Korea and the Asia Society in the years and decades ahead.

Asia-Pacific and Beyond

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is often said that this is the century of the Asia-Pacific region. Encompassing half of the landmass of the world, home to 42% of the world population, and constituting 57% of the world GDP and 46% of world trade, the region is indeed on the rise.

The countries of the region have recorded impressive GDP growth, thanks largely to favorable markets such as the United States and strong domestic demands, and their economies are expected to remain robust in the coming years. The region is the growth engine for the global economy and an area of vital importance for world peace and stability.

However, despite the great economic success and huge potential, the security situation of the Asia-Pacific region remains fluid and volatile and a sense of community is lacking in the region. Deep-seated differences over history, political and economic systems, ethnicity, religion, and cultural traditions have prevented the countries of the region from seeking a shared destiny.

Indeed, when it comes to regional cooperation, the Asia-Pacific region is lagging far behind others. Fortunately, the realization that future peace and prosperity lies in community-building and integration is spreading around the region. And the experiences in such fora as the ASEAN+3, APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the East Asia Summit are proving that greater institutional cooperation on issues beyond economic ties is not only desirable but also attainable in the Asia-Pacific region.

These existing entities hold the seeds for the development of an effective, action-oriented body that can make a real difference on issues of peace and security. A more comprehensive and forward-looking way to improve upon the regional arrangements is needed at this point.

In my view, multilateral security cooperation in the Asia Pacific must incorporate three elements: first, it must aim to be a "cooperative" security, the benefit of which accrue to all participating countries; second, it should be a "comprehensive" security that comprises non-traditional as well as traditional security concerns; and third, it must embrace "human security" based upon the universal values of human rights and humanitarianism.

Europe has set the preeminent example for such multilateral cooperation. Following the Second World War, former foes of Europe boldly opted for multilateralism and interdependence as the surest way to keep them from fighting again and prosper together. Guided by leaders with vision, they started out on the process of security dialogue and economic integration in order to keep peace and spread democracy in Europe. They took steps to overcome hostility and established mechanisms for the forging of future-oriented relations.

The European experience with the EU and the OSCE tells us that action-oriented political leadership is vital to the creation and growth of successful multinational bodies. The time has come for such leadership in the Asia-Pacific, and this, in the first instance, from the essential power in the region, the United States.

The United States is vital to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. To some, community-building and integration in the Asia-Pacific region may sound more like a far-off vision than an achievable goal at this point. But with active US leadership, the realization of that vision can be greatly accelerated. I would certainly hope that such a vision and leadership are actively forming in the minds and hearts of the leaders of this great country, many of whom are present here this evening.

North Korean Nuclear Issue

Distinguished participants,

Among the serious security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, the most urgent is the North Korean nuclear issue. Only a year ago, a historic breakthrough was reached in the Six-Party Talks with the adoption of the Joint Statement setting out the goals and principles toward denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

The Joint Statement of September 19, 2005 was the fruit of two years of arduous diplomatic efforts involving six countries for the single purpose of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. It presented a balanced and comprehensive blueprint for the peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue.

Moreover, the Joint Statement was the result of close ROK-US cooperation based on the shared strategy toward North Korea -- that it must forgo nuclear ambitions and become a responsible member of the international community.

Unfortunately, the discussion on the implementation of the Joint Statement has been stalled due to North Korea's refusal to return to the Six-Party Talks. North Korea's missile launches in July added yet another twist to the difficult situation.

The missile launches were met with a strong response from the international community, and prompted the UN Security Council to unanimously adopt resolution 1695. With the resolution, the international community sent a clear and solemn message to Pyongyang. But it also showed North Korea a way out of the current predicament, that is, to return to the Six Party Talks without condition.

The Republic of Korea and the United States as well as other countries concerned are seeking ways to resume the Six Party Talks, while faithfully implementing 1695. In this regard, during their summit meeting in Washington on September 14, President Roh Moo-hyun and President Bush agreed to work with other nations of the Six Party Talks to develop a common and broad approach to reenergize the stalled Talks. The two leaders also reaffirmed that the Joint Statement offered the best hope for North Korea to rejoin the community of nations and to partake in the fruits of international cooperation and assistance.

In the follow-up consultations to the summit, senior diplomats of our two countries are in in-depth consultations, mustering the best of their wisdom and creativity, and working together as allies to manage the situation toward a resumption of the Six Party Talks and the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

Korea at the UN

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Republic of Korea is a firm believer in multilateral cooperation as the way forward for greater peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia, in the Asia-Pacific, and on the global stage. Thus, at the UN, we are endeavoring to contribute to the work of the global organization as well as to its on-going reforms.

Many countries of the Asia-Pacific, including the Republic of Korea, owe much to the UN for the peace and prosperity they now enjoy. Indeed, the rise of the Asia-Pacific, the economic and social development of the region, would have been unlikely without the support and engagement of the UN. All should feel an obligation to contribute to the efforts to reform the UN into a more efficient and effective global body.

My country, the Republic of Korea, has long been a prime beneficiary and proponent of multilateralism, particularly as embodied in the UN system. Indeed, Korea is a rare success story in the sixty years of UN efforts to promote peace and security, development and human rights around the world.

Having experienced war and managed stability for half a century, having gone from poverty to prosperity, from authoritarian rule to full-fledged democracy, Korea has undergone the full spectrum of challenges that are on the agenda of the UN. In the process, we have learned through experience what Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan has steadfastly articulated: that security provides the key to development, and without development peace is not sustainable; above all, that the full respect for human rights is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and prosperity.

It is in this context that I was nominated by my government as a candidate for the post of the next Secretary-General of the UN. Over the past months, I have promoted my candidacy with humility, presenting my thoughts and listening to the views of others on current challenges facing the UN and the international community.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While helping the national development of such countries as Korea, the UN itself has also greatly evolved and expanded since its founding more than six decades ago. But its core mission has not changed: to be the world's meeting place, where Member States can identify ways of working together when their interest converge, and of finding negotiated solutions and avoiding conflict when they diverge.

But the UN is at a critical juncture when it must become more effective and relevant in dealing with the new challenges of the post Cold-War era. The global organization is overstretched and fatigued, and often criticized for not delivering on promises made. Meanwhile, the globalizing world of global problems calls for collective responses that can only be forged at the UN. The Organization needs to sharpen its tools and streamline its work. In the process, the active support and participation of the United States is crucial. With its most important member taking the lead, the UN system can and must be revitalized so as to effectively meet the growing expectations of the global community in the 21st century.

Working closely with the United States, the next Secretary-General of the UN will have the chance to take the UN to a new era of effective multilateralism. This, I believe, lies in greater focus on implementation and fulfillment of pledges already made, such as the MDGs, so as to strengthen states and the inter-state system against the new challenges of the 21st century, such as non-state actors with destructive intent.

With humility and sense of duty, I hope to become the one to undertake such a mission. In this regard, I am deeply thankful for the encouraging result of the 2 nd straw poll in the Security Council on September 14. I take it as an indication of the confidence that the Security Council members place in me and my message as a candidate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that Asia aspires to take the helm of the United Nations for the next decade is one indication of the rise of the Asia-Pacific region in the global scheme of things. And by all accounts, the rise is likely to continue. The coming years promise to be a time of exciting challenges and accomplishments for the region. As it enters the 2nd half-century, the Asia Society, too, looks headed for an era of heightened activity. May the Society and its distinguished members live in interesting times.

Thank you for your kind attention. Now, I'd be happy to take questions and comments.