[2020-07-16] “The World without Global Leadership” – Speech at the NEWS1 Future Forum

By 2020년 7월 20일 No Comments
Source: NEWS1 TV Official Youtube Channel

On July 16th, Chairman Ban attended the NEWS1 Future Forum. Co-hosted by NEWS1 and UN Future Forum, this event was prepared to discuss the aftermaths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chairman Ban gave a special speech on “The World without Global Leadership, Korea’s Path?”


Compared to 2014 Ebola virus, the absence of UN Security Council’s response towards the coronavirus is shameful indeed. The competition between the two powers, US and China, has delayed the selection of the Security Council’s resolution, which took only a day in 2014. Today, we cannot witness such decisive political determination. Chairman Ban mentioned the Korean government’s praiseworthy COVID response as a successful case of decisive action. However, citizens must always keep an eye on the advent of an enlarged government, the Big Brother. “Enlargement of government power is not ideal for liberal democracy and human rights. Although the strong, decisive action of government is inevitable, this shall not be continued,” Chairman Ban clearly stated, commenting on the situation in many countries.


Korean government has announced the Green New Deal, an environment-friendly job creation policy for the post-COVID era. Chairman Ban was deeply impressed by the plan, calling it ‘courageous, ambitious, and comprehensive’. Even still, he wasn’t pleased by the ambiguity of the plan’s de-carbonization outlook. While the international society is aiming for Net Zero 2050, Korean government’s Green New Deal does not clearly state the ‘when’ and vaguely expresses that it will ‘pursue’ de-carbonization. “‘Pursuing’ Net Zero is an aspirational goal, same as saying that we can’t do it,” pitied Chairman Ban. He urged a broader, global vision of political leaders.


“It is utterly important to change the corona crisis into an opportunity for us to shift the basis of our economic policy in a sustainable, environmental-friendly way,” he said. The sustainable economic policy must be nature-friendly, yet business-friendly. Industries must search for alternative measures to survive in the New Normal era. Laborers ought to realize that immoderate labor union activities can damage themselves and the entire economy. “Of course the workers’ interest must be protected and ensured at all times,” Chairman Ban assured. “However, I am against the idea that their rights are the only value to be prioritized,” he said, emphasizing the role of the government to mediate the interests of both groups to maximize their capacities.


Chairman Ban’s concern centered on the precarious position of multilateralism. “Trump administration’s decision is morally irresponsible and scientifically misled. If Trump continues this way, he will be standing on the wrong side of history,” he warned, mentioning Trump administration’s withdrawal from international agreements and organizations. Chairman Ban stressed the two traps to be avoided in today’s global circumstances: Graham Allison’s Thucydides Trap and Charles Kindleberger’s Kindleberger Trap. He highlighted the Kindleberger Trap, referring to the absence of US’s leadership in international crises.


The Chairman pointed out the fundamental reason for South Korean government’s repeated failure in addressing North Korea. “Politicians trying to make North Korea issue an achievement of a certain government is the reason for the ‘faster and faster’, performance-based approach,” he alleged. Unlike the North, who has never changed its position, the South switched its attitude whenever the administration changed. Chairman Ban asserted that security, the complete denuclearization of North Korea, is the principle to be prioritized above our ethnical matters.


The passing of the Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup reminded Chairman Ban of the issue of past liquidation. “Yes, it is true that that we didn’t go through the pro-Japanese renegades properly after Korea’s Independence in 1945,” he cleared out. However, considering how Koreans were suppressed under the Japanese colonization, Chairman Ban suggested that the evaluation of a historical figure must be done comprehensively, encompassing one’s deed after the colonization as well. ‘We must put our past behind,’ he said. No human being can be perfect. Therefore, instead of fighting over the past, we must work towards our future.


“How are we doing?” he asked about Korean unification. The unification of the Korean Peninsula is our historical assignment, and yet people are becoming more and more indifferent to the unification of our own home country. He compared Korea’s negligence to the hard work of German leaders at the end of the 20th century. “Do we have a sustainable blueprint for South-North cooperation, beyond political parties and administrations? Are we reaching out diplomatically to our neighboring states? Do we have a social reintegration plan for the South and North?” The Chairman’s answer was negative.


To end his speech, Chairman Ban stressed the importance of multilateralism, the central role of UN, and the responsibility of global leaders.


Below is the translation of his entire speech:






Ladies and Gentlemen,


Ahead of me, Professor Jeffrey Sachs had made some comments. To sum up his words, he spoke on four themes, COVID response, the changing international politics, development of digital technology, and the destruction of our environment and ecology.


Professor Sachs had worked with me as my adviser during my 10 years in UN when I selected the SDGs and dealt with climate change. Before I left, I appointed 17 SDGs Special Advocates to promote sustainable development. This included royalties, professors, politicians, sportsmen and Professor Sachs was one of them. The NEW1(host of the event) has invited an excellent figure.

While Professor Sachs was in Harvard he was so well known that it was expected that Paul Krugman, Larry Summers or Jeffrey Sachs would receive the Nobel Economics Prize. Although the two who worked for the government and the UN didn’t win the prize, they are all great scholars. Thank you, Professor Sachs, for your wonderful speech. While the SDGs was being put forward, scholars like him suggested many ideas. After he left the UN, he discovered the SDSN(Sustainable Development Solutions Network). We also have a network here in Korea, the SDSN Korea Network.


Of late, we are facing many crises national and internationally. How we cope through this situation is a challenging task indeed. The COVID-19, the collapsing multilateralism, UN’s absence; and as US, who has led the international society after WWII based on the values of multilateralism, human rights, social and moral goods, withdraws from all these basic rights, the world is heading towards an unstoppable chaos. Adding to this is the competition between US and China.

It’s been 50 years since I’ve started my service. During the last 50 years, never has there been so much value confusions internally and externally.


First, I would like to speak of the coronavirus. Global crisis like the COVID-19 requires a global response. The US, however rich and strong it may be, has fallen apart. Out of 13 million confirmed infections, one fourth of the cases, around 3.5million, occurred in the United States. One fourth of death caused by the virus is in the US. This is, after all because of US’s lack of will in multilateral cooperation. It withdrew from the WHO, condemned the organization, and blamed China. All these actions have resulted in its deteriorating international capacity.


Let’s briefly compare this with the Ebola virus, which swept West Africa in 2014. When the virus occurred in Liberia, Sierra Lyon, and Guinea, the international society tensed up. US called in a private airplane just to transfer one single infected man from Africa. The WHO was heavily condemned back then as well. In the beginning, the virus was controlled by the WHO, but as criticisms rose, I decided that this wasn’t enough. So the system changed so that the UN can control and lead the situation. The Security Council set out resolutions and ran the UNMEER. The WHO would work as an organization together with the IMF, EDB, and other development banks, with the US at the center.

UN has a Peace Keeping Force around 120,000. This is a military force organized to keep peace and security. It was the first time that the PKO was dispatched for a disease. President Obama supported 3000 men from U.S on own expenses. The UK 750 and France 500. We completely lock downed the area, safely.


For 6 months, the Security Council is not showing any response to COVID-19. This is because US and China are battling each other. US intends to state in the resolution that the virus is cause by China, and China will reject to this using veto. As a result, nothing from the Security Council. On the other hand, it took only a day for the Security Council to adopt a resolution stating that the Ebola virus is a serious threat to the maintenance of international peace and security. I visited the affected area, so I followed the quarantine rule for 21 days, even if I was the Secretary-General.

Such political determination cannot be seen today. Actually, in terms of political determination, South Korea has done well. This is why we are being praised. Other countries are asking Korea to share its COVID response experience. A few days ago, the Columbia President called in to ask for advice, and even the President of Kazakhstan called me.


The post-COVID era will be different from the world before the virus, and we all need to be prepared for the great changes that we are to face. In many countries we witness enlargement of government power for closing down borders, cash input reasons. Scholars from politics and social studies fear the advent of the Big Brother Government in this process. Everything is led by the government, without following sufficient procedures. Even Korea has revised the supplementary budget 3 times already.

If this continues, quarantine and lockdown may lead to human rights violation, and government domination. Enlargement of government power is not ideal for liberal democracy and human rights. Although the strong, decisive action of government is inevitable, this shall not be continued.


The COVID-19 relates directly to environment destruction and thus, our future economic activities must be progressed towards nature- and ecology-friendly sustainable development.

Industries that are leading producers of production need to seriously search for an alternative measure to prepare for the disruption of the global supply chain. It is expected that the field of digital infra, including remote education and remote medical, care will grow large in size. As a result, the on-line lifestyle will become our New Normal. However, is this New Normal desirable? I am not so certain of that. Active utilization of digital technology may lead to new threats.


Few days ago, President Moon announced the Green New Deal. It is a courageous, ambitious, and a comprehensive plan indeed. Although as the former UN Secretary-General, I do have some regrets. Enormous amount of finance is put into our short term economic plan, but there is not much mentioned about the climate change.


It said that we ‘pursue de-carbonization’. The international society, including the EU is now aiming for Net Zero 2050, that there should be zero greenhouse gas emission till 2050 to keep the Earth temperature below 1.5 Celsius. But the new plan does not mention these specifics, and instead just states that we ‘pursue’ Net Zero. This is why Korea is being named the Climate Villain. An immense expenditure is being used to change our industrial structure but we cannot clearly claim that we will achieve the goal by 2050. This is shameful indeed. ‘Pursuing’ Net Zero is an aspirational goal, same as saying that we can’t do it. The civil society and the media have already expressed negative positions on this. I urge the political leaders to gain a broader vision for our planet Earth.


It is utterly important to change the corona crisis into an opportunity for us to shift the basis of our economic policy in a sustainable, environmental-friendly way. Business-friendly policies must be put forward. If businesses collapse, the laborers fall with them. The current severe labor union activities are haunting Korea’s economy. Of course the workers’ interest must be protected and ensured at all times. However, I am against the idea that their rights are the only value to be prioritized. Everyone is in crisis. The main function of a liberal democratic government is to figure out the correlation between private businesses and the civil society so that both can maximize their capability.


Multilateralism is constantly under attack. How can we explain the situation where the US, a leading state of human rights and freedom, has left the Human Rights Council and the UNESCO? It is withdrawing from central agreements like the Paris Agreement as well. There is a confusion in values.

Fortunately, although I cannot assure anything, the strong leading candidate of November 3rd election, Joe Biden, has announced that US will return to the Paris Agreement and the Human Rights Council, and will invest 2 trillion dollars for climate change. If he is elected that is. However, this shows the leader’s insight.


Hence, it would have been better if the Green New Deal plan was set upon a broader global vision. After all, Korea cannot survive alone, no country can! I’ve emphasized numerously that the implement of the Paris Agreement shall not be put aside to the backseat. I’ve repeated this when I met with the Minister of Environment when he aggregated the plan. Not just in Korea, but everywhere around the world, even online.


I have criticized the discontinuation of Trump administrations political will towards climate change. Trump administration’s decision is morally irresponsible and scientifically misled. If Trump continues this way, he will be standing on the wrong side of history. I’ve said this even in the States, at the center of Washington.


The competition and dispute between China and the US remains a problem for the international society. The US and South Korea are allies, and China is our biggest trading partner and a neighbor. We are surrounded by the four most powerful nations in the world, including Japan and Russia. We must cope through this situation with a diplomatic wisdom.

No one can easily point out the cause of the US-China dispute. Ever since General Secretary Xi Jinping took power, China spoke of the 2049 China Dream, that China will become the strongest nation by 2049 including its military status; while US economic scholars have vainly commented on when China will overtake US’s GNP. Political tensions arose in this process.

I want to encourage China to focus on soft power. But instead, China seems to be focused on growing its hard power, or even its sharp power. Deng Xiaoping has said, ‘Hide your strength, bide your time,’ (韜光養晦) meaning that you should keep a low profile until you’re confident enough. However, China is showing off its strength, and US is trying to contain China’s power. As an ally of US, and the trading neighbor of China, Korea needs wise and intelligent solutions.


As the Chair of the Boao Forum for Asia, and as the former UN Secretary-General, I maintained a close relationship with Chinese politicians as Hu Jintao former General Secretary, Wen Jiabao Former Premier, Premier Li Keqiang and Director General Xi Jinping. Director General Xi always claims that China will continue to uphold the value of multilateralism and liberalism, and that China has a clear vision towards the humanity.


As Professor Joseph Nye advised President Trump, that the US and China must watch out for the two traps; Graham Allison’s Thucydides Trap and Charles Kindleberger’s Kindleberger Trap. It is important for the superpower state US to show additional effort and sincerity in the international society.

In the 1930’s, the US have not shown global leadership, although it has outrun UK’s power. Only after when the WWII occurred, did US intervene. The Kinldleberger trap refers to a situation of a destructed global order by the absence of leadership when the capable leader doesn’t take action. Some say that the current situation, US evading international system and not showing leadership, can be explained by this theory. US left international conferences and is interfering the WTO by disagreeing on appointing new judges. There are many warnings on this. I ask for the attention of the Korean peoples on likewise international issues.


I have expressed my view on the Korean Peninsula issue last week in front of National Assembly Members. So I won’t go in too deep with this topic. When it comes to North Korea politics, every administration, from President Park Chung-hee’s ‘July 4th North-South Joint Statement’, every president came up with his/her own initiative.

The generations of government administrations have looked at North Korea for the purpose of national politics, switching positions every president. Even when Presidents succeed within the same party, policies changed. Politicians trying to make North Korea issue an achievement of a certain government is the reason for the ‘faster and faster’, performance-based approach. If this proceeds, we will be dragged around by the North. We mustn’t forget that North Korea, from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong un, has not changed its position.

The ‘faster and faster’ way of approach will take us nowhere. Haste makes waste. In Latin, there is a phrase ‘Festina Lente’. This means ‘make haste, but slowly’. Ironically I know, but we need to keep this phrase in mind.


We must aim for complete denuclearization of North Korea. North Korea issue is our ethnic issue, but if we prioritize this too much, we could overlook the importance of security. There is no ethnicity, if we don’t survive. Thus, it is desirable for us to accomplish complete denuclearization first, and then discuss ethnicity issues.


Last June 25th marked the 70th year of the Korean War, next August 15th is the 75th anniversary of our independence and our division. Acknowledging these two very meaningful events, I would like to share my thoughts.


First, we must put our past behind. Few days ago, the Korean War hero, General Paik Sun-yup passed away. Watching with pity the contentions around the General on his past pro-Japanese deeds, I came across the issue of past liquidation.

If we apply a strict standard on pro-Japanese activities, thinking about it, how many people in the Korean Peninsula do you think have had the freedom to choose in that era of the Japanese colonization? Only a very few, those who fought for independence would proudly stand.

There are other standards to apply when evaluate a figures performance, which is how one conducted oneself after Korea’s Independence; during the national chaos and the dramatic outbreak of the Korean War.

Yes, it is true that that we didn’t go through the pro-Japanese renegades after Korea’s Independence in 1945. However, our country was divided as soon as we gained independence, and just as if the situation wasn’t bad enough already, we went through the Korean War. We lacked the time to handle this issue.


I want to point out that censuring a historical figure in the name of past liquidation, without distinguishing one’s good and bad, is foolish. No human is perfect, and no leader can score grade A on every subject. With a penetrating view towards one entire lifetime, encompassing one’s overall contribution to our society, in the spirit of ‘Gong Chil Gwa Sam’ (70% positive outcome, 30% defect), we must put our past behind, and work towards our future. If not, we’ll continue quarreling by ourselves. Never have I, as the former Secretary-General, witnessed a country divided by past liquidation as much as here in Korea. I’m not just mentioning General Paik. Korea is now one of the great economic powers; we mustn’t go on divided this way.


Second, on Korean unification.

I see that the people are becoming indifferent on the unification issue. We mustn’t forget that the reunification of our peninsular is our historical assignment. Yes, there are lots to be handled before unification; complete denuclearization, ease tension, economic cooperation, income disparity between the North and South and more.


Many compare Korea’s case to Germany’s successful unification. Yet the two are quite different. Germany started the war and was divided because of that. And while they were divided, they had not experienced any war. On the other hand, we went through war. Thus the acrimony and hatred towards the other half wasn’t as serious in Germany.

The West Germany government continued economic cooperation and personal exchange with East Germany. The Chancellor of West Germany strived to relieve the other power states’ concerns on Germany’s reunification by reaching out to countries like UK, Russia and especially France. He persuaded the US leader, and fostered a positive atmosphere for unification by communicating with the most opposing states, UK and France.

How are we doing? Do we have a sustainable blueprint for South-North cooperation, beyond political parties and administrations? Are we reaching out diplomatically to our neighboring states? 25 years later, it will be the 100th year of South-North division. Do we have a social reintegration plan for the South and North? I believe not.


Individual by individual, party by party, the leaders taking sides; we are all divided. If this is to be, we have no future. What would the Green New Deal mean if the situation is like this; if our society continues to be spilt apart?


We ought not to seek for peace, speaking only of ethnical matters, while being silent on unification and being negligent on security. We need to elucidate the importance of unification to our future leading youth generation and raise social awareness. Efforts to persuade our neighboring countries of our liberal democratic and peaceful reunification design must continue beyond each administration. I am already worried of what new North Korean policies, economic policies, social policies there will be after two years.


To sum up I would like to reiterate three things related to today’s topic.


First, in order to overcome the chaos and anxiety of this uncertain era, global leaders must strengthen their commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation, based on the philosophy of liberal democracy and human rights..

Second, UN is the central organization with the strongest convening power; the power to call on the government leaders and host meetings. UN must collaborate closely with states and international organizations and carry out its role.  At the same time, the international society ought to respect and cheer UN’s efforts.

Third, the world powers, such as the US, China, and Russia, should take responsibility as global leaders and must cooperate to lead a future-oriented international society. As one of the 10 major economic powers, Korea must also demonstrate such a vision; that is when we will be respected, and that is when the world can be peaceful.


Last, the role of the media. Media can lead our people towards a better future. The Media needs a global vision beyond party games, and report broader global issues.