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[Incumbent] Keynote Address by H.E. Kang Kyung-wha Minister of Foreign Affairs Republic of Korea
Keynote Address by H.E. Kang Kyung-wha
2019 IFANS Conference on Global Affairs, December 4, 2019
Chancellor Kim Joonhyung of IFANS,
It is my great pleasure to be here at the 2019 IFANS Conference on Global Affairs. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the acclaimed experts and scholars from Korea and abroad gathered here to tackle this year’s conference theme “Northeast Asian Order in Transition: Exploring a New Peace Architecture”. I am sure your contributions today will add to the growing international stature of this annual flagship event of IFANS.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We hear every day that the world order is in transition. Indeed, international relations are in a flux, and foreign policy decision makers and practitioners like myself seem increasingly unable to afford the comfort of operating in familiar territory. The symptoms and analyses abound. Many say we are witnessing the possible return of great power rivalry. There is alarm that the rules-based international order which has defined the global landscape for the last 75 years since World War II, is under threat.
The promises and pitfalls of fast-evolving technological advances, climate change, growing inequalities and economic uncertainties, and polarizing public opinion amplify the concerns.
Under the circumstance, it is difficult to fathom the contours of future international relations. But one thing seems clear: the United States and China are key, and how the relations between the two powers evolve will have defining ramifications all around. Many are seeing in this the emergence of a second Cold War between the United States and China. But I think the Cold War analogy is too simplistic. The world today is much more complex and interdependent than during the Cold War times, and the relations between the two powers much more multi-layered and interwoven. The points of contention as well as convergence are broader and deeper as well, including in trade and technology.
It is tempting to see a clash between the present and future hegemons in an unavoidable “Thucydides Trap”. Perhaps that framing may still be relevant, but the factors that shape how it plays out in the 21st century are vastly different from those of Athens and Sparta in Ancient Greece.
The United States and China have shared interests, and numerous players, small and large, influence their strategic outlooks. Countless actors – in governments, international organizations, academia, businesses, technology, civil society – are driven by a win-win worldview of enlightened self-interest. Taking lessons from history, they seek to grow the pie rather than divide it up in a zero-sum game. So, competition or cooperation between the United States and China? Both, combined in “coopetition”, seem to be the most realistic framing.
While the US-China relations affect all regions in the world, the repercussions are most direct, obviously, in Northeast Asia. China is the biggest country in the region, and the US presence is manifested by its bilateral security alliances with the Republic Korea and Japan. The weight of history is still heavy in the region, but Korea, China, and Japan have become economic powerhouses, interwoven in trade and investment ties among themselves as well as with the United States. And they share, with Russia and the larger global community, the challenge of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and other WMD programs and establishing lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. The swings in the coopetition between the United States and China add another layer to the already complicated relations in the region.
Situated, literally, in the center of these dynamics, Korea is seeking to play a proactive and constructive role in the region and beyond. The task may seem daunting, and the elements that drive the future of this region may be intractable and beyond our control. But Korea has always been a force for peace and prosperity with its neighbors, and has a track record of facing up to turbulent times and becoming stronger for the experience. We have overcome repressive colonial rule, the devastation of the Korean War, military dictatorship, and financial crises in recent decades to become a lively democracy and the 11th largest economy in the world with a leading edge in many high tech areas. The hardships and our innate passion for learning and growing and human dignity have made our people resilient, creative and energetic, with outputs that have global appeal, as demonstrated by Korean pop culture.
The government of President Moon Jae-in has endeavored to undertake this role with a heightened sense of historical mission and necessity. The core principles guiding our foreign policy are peace, co-prosperity, and people. Peace and peaceful dialogue to resolve the North Korean nuclear challenge as well as other thorny issues on our diplomatic agenda. Co-prosperity to grow together and share the fruits with others.
And people, in faithful adherence to the fundamental values of our democracy.
First, peace is a goal, an aspiration and a methodology for Korea, and we have launched a peace process on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean Peninsula is the last remaining legacy of the Cold War, and the only divided nation with the two sides still living under an armistice that is nearly seven decades-old. Replacing this with lasting peace requires overcoming decades of division and mutual hostility and negotiating a full peace treaty.
This challenge has been made multiple times harder by North Korea’s nuclear development. But the way to resolution remains the same: dialogue and diplomacy, backed up by full confidence in our military deterrence and preparedness. The ROK-US alliance and the combined defense posture enable our steadfast endeavors to engage with North Korea.
This engagement with North Korea seems tenuous at the moment, especially in light of its recent statements and testing of missiles and rocket launchers. What belies this defiance is up to interpretation, but the dialogue remains open and we are working closely with the United States, as well as China, Japan and Russia to keep North Korea on the track of dialogue towards complete denuclearization and lasting peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The North Korean nuclear issue is a global security challenge. It has thus been the one issue that has rallied the unity of the UN Security Council. As two of its permanent members, as well as regional powers with security interests on the Korean Peninsula, the United States and China have closely coordinated for peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
In advancing the Korean Peninsula peace process, my government has played a catalytic role. With strategic foresight, we turned the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Games in early 2018 into a historic opportunity to draw North Korea out for dialogue. We provided pivotal intervention when US-North Korea dialogue seemed to falter. For example, when the first US-North Korea Summit was about to be cancelled, President Moon intervened to clear the air and put it back on track in June last year. In June this year, we were a proactive host to the US-North Korea summit encounter at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
In late September, at the UN General Assembly, President Moon reiterated the three principles of engagement with the North: no war, mutual security guarantees, and co-prosperity. Let me be clear. There will be no war on the Korean Peninsula. President Moon also proposed to turn the DMZ into a peace zone, to serve as a physical guarantee of mutual security between South and North Korea. Turning the heavily-mined and guarded four kilometer-wide zone across the Korean Peninsula into an internationally recognized and supported peace zone would certainly strengthen the conditions towards lasting peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Thus, the proposal has been widely applauded, including by all the leaders at the recent ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in Busan. For they see the benefits for their own countries and region of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula that is fully at peace, they have pledged to actively support the peace process.
Second, we aspire towards co-prosperity, sharing our unique development experience, and generating synergies with complementary partners in a world of free and open trade. The Korean experience, lauded as the miracle on the Han, would not have happened without the free global trade regime.
At the vanguard have been Korean companies, constantly exploring new markets and opportunities for investment around the globe. They have supported and grown together with the economic development of host countries. In recent decades, Korea’s overseas development cooperation has grown in volume and fine-tuned for local relevance.
Indeed, Korea is a champion of free trade and enjoys a vast and still growing network of bilateral and regional FTAs. And thus our key task in our New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy is to further strengthen and expand this network of partners in co-prosperity.
We cherish the global value chains (GVCs) created by free trade in goods and services, and stand against any attempts to undermine them.
These are very dense in Northeast Asia. In many cases, Korea is the middle chain between Japan and China, working with high-end machinery and materials from Japan to produce parts that could be sent to China for assembly into a final product and eventual export to the United States and other markets. Similar value chains link up Korean companies with partners all around the globe, including in Southeast Asia, India, Europe, North and South America.
Indeed, these global value chains are part and parcel of the interdependence among economies, countries and peoples. If one part of a chain is broken, all before and after are likely to feel the effects. They are and should be driven by business logic, and not disrupted by external considerations. Governments should think hard about exploiting them for political gains, for their own companies are also likely to suffer from the consequences.
Third, my government places the people at the center of our policy initiatives. Our people, their freedoms and rights, and participation in public affairs are the energy that drives our democratic governance, and our profile in the global arena should reflect this. In foreign policy, this means reaching beyond the government partners to facilitate people-to-people connections and supporting civil society initiatives. Furthermore, with an ever increasing number of Koreans travelling, working and living in other countries, the government is endeavoring to enhance consular services and strengthen cooperation with host governments.
In development cooperation, we strive to ensure that the programs are designed to meet local needs and the results make a difference for the local people. The grounds for this are fertile in some countries and not so in others, and we calibrate our policies accordingly. We are not about preaching our ways but about sharing our experience, and demonstrating by example the value of learning, hard work and bringing out the best in people.
In promoting peace, co-prosperity and people-centered foreign policy, our profile is one of a middle power that has benefited greatly from the rules-based international order, and we are all for sustaining and further strengthening it. Mr. Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State of the United States, compared middle powers like Korea to “knights” on the chessboard that can jump over other pieces, a move deemed most strategic and can even be a game changer.
As the rules-based world order which has underpinned global peace and prosperity is being assailed from many directions, the middle powers such as Korea have a pivotal role to play. With like-minded partners, Korea stands firm in defense of multilateralism and the regional and global norms that it has generated. We are also playing a positive role in the shaping of rules in newly emerging areas with trans-boundary impact such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It seems no day passes by without news of something happening or not happening between the United States and China. Some see Korea caught in between, at the mercy of the dynamics. But others see us as an able middle power with a growing voice in the region and beyond.
We certainly think so. With no other motive than to live peacefully and prosper together with all others, we are a positive player. We have never knowingly taken steps to harm others unless necessary in defense of our national interest. Our role is to be a force for cooperation rather than competition. Our security alliance with the United States is the lynchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and it will remain so.
Our interdependent ties with China are growing in all areas, including in close coordination over the challenges posed by North Korea. The setback of 2017 has largely been overcome, though more needs to be done in certain sectors.
The source of our abilities and the legitimacy of our stance on the global stage is the vibrancy of our democracy. At times divisive politics and loud displays of public discontent make the work of government very challenging, but ultimately in the service of the people in their myriad demands. By extension, in making peace and seeking prosperity with others, we will remain faithful to the values that we hold dear and that have shaped Korea’s evolution as a prosperous democracy. And I am confident that this is also the best way Korea can contribute to the global community. I do hope your discussion today will help us to enrich this aspiration. Thank you very much. /END/