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Toward a Peaceful and Prosperous Northeast Asia

May 26, 2005

The Hon. Chung Dong-young
Minister of Unification, Republic of Korea

Honorable President Sugita Ryoki of Nihon Keizai,
Distinguished political leaders of Asian countries and guests from abroad, and "opinion leaders" of Japan,

It is my distinct honor to participate in the Nikkei Forum to express my views on peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.

We find Northeast Asia at an important crossroad of historical transition in 2005. Whether it is at the crossroads between peace and crisis, or between the past and the future, nations in Northeast Asia are being asked to make a "historical choice."

For South Korea, this year 2005 is a "year of self-reflection" to look back on the national history of the past one hundred years marked by occupation, liberation, war, and division.

At the same time, it is a "year of searching," when we must devise a strategy for development for the next century based on the Korean people's past achievements of economic growth from the ruins of the Korean War, as well as democratization from blood and tears.

While this is also a meaningful year, marking the 5th anniversary of the June 15th Inter-Korean Summit, it is a "year of transition" for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, which has yet to exit the long tunnel of deadlock, as well as for establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Are Peace and Prosperity impossible in Northeast Asia?

In Northeast Asia, today, conflict and cooperation intersect. Establishing a regional cooperative body in the political and security area in the near future appears to be difficult. However, economic interdependence, which serves as the foundation for building a regional community in the future, is increasing at a rapid rate.

Northeast Asia is representative of the world's economic dynamism. The three countries, namely, South Korea, China, and Japan make up one-fourth of the world's population and one-fifth of world's economic scale. The scale of exchanges and cooperation among the three countries is also overwhelmingly bigger than any other country outside the region. The political and economic weight of this region in the 21st century will become a lot greater than in the 20th century.

If China's market and potential, Korea's dynamic democratization, and Japan's advanced democratic system were to combine in cooperation, we, on the basis of sustainable development, could realize a new possibility serving as a centripetal force for East Asia's regional cooperation.

We, living in the East Asian region, look at the European order of peace and unity with admiration. But we can also enjoy the same kind of achievement. Although our past history and present circumstances are posing as obstacles, we must take a step toward realizing the dream of the citizens of Northeast Asia.

The differences in political systems and the remaining shadows of the Cold War notwithstanding, intensified economic interdependence and dynamic move toward cooperation, which are becoming increasingly evident in Northeast Asia, are asking for political awakening and strenuous efforts.

It is important to share the future-oriented values of peace and cooperation. The promise of the future will be made clear through the present evaluation of the past history of conflicts.

The modern history of Europe was far more devastating than that of Northeast Asia. It could be referred to as the history of war which was filled with ongoing confrontation and conflict. In the 20th century, the world had to undergo two major wars filled with memories of holocaust and hatred.

After the war, however, Europe embarked on a course of writing a new history. How was Europe, which was a source of tragedy in the 19th and 20th centuries, able to create a new future of reconciliation and unity? This was made possible through a thorough self-examination and overcoming of the tragic history.

Clarification of Germany's past history, in particular, was the core value for the European Union. Germany was able to put an end to the conflict through a thorough self-examination and action, thereby playing a leading role in building a future of unity. Thus, Germany's self-reflection and subsequent actions resulted in the formation of "a community under one-roof," or the so-called European Union.

A new future of reconciliation and unity as shown by Europe would not be impossible to be achieved in Northeast Asia. In particular, Japan's choice would be critically important for the future of Northeast Asia. Japan has developed into a stable, economic power in the post-war period based on the principles of democracy, peace constitution, and denuclearization. These principles have also served as the basis for stability and regional economic growth in Northeast Asia.

However, the neighboring countries are concerned about the past-oriented historical views held by some Japanese leaders that go against the post-war direction of peace.

I have read numerous times "The Joint Declaration on the 21st Century New Korea-Japan Partnership" of October 1998 based on the agreement of both governments. It contains the late former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo's regret and apology for the great loss and pain the Japanese colonial occupation had inflicted on the Korean people.

Since then, South Korea has sincerely welcomed Japan's understanding of its past history, opened its market to Japan's pop culture, and worked towards future-oriented development of both countries. However, a series of latest acts by Japan are impeding the future-oriented development of the two countries. This is a very unfortunate reality.

The past has always been the mirror of the present and the future. Japan's neighboring countries would not see the future but the past in Japanese politics. The citizens of Northeast Asia are deeply concerned whether the past history of misery might repeat itself when they see Japanese leaders paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines class "A " war criminals.

In this regard, it is regrettable that an alternative tribute system has not been instituted yet, despite Prime Minister Koizumi's commitment to consider at the 2001 Korea-Japan Summit.

I hope that Japan will direct us to the future of Northeast Asia, not its past. It has to earn the trust of its neighboring countries, as well as demonstrate its will to "live in coexistence" with its neighbors through action.

The second Korea-Japan Joint History Research due to start this year needs to be pursued in connection with how history is described in the textbook. The first joint research conducted for 2 years and 10 months resulted only in confirming the disparity in the two countries' understanding of history, yielding no real achievement.

The joint history research for the future is not a difficult task. Conscientious intellectuals and citizen groups of Korea and Japan are already writing a common history together. I recently read a valuable book which was written and published by history teachers of both countries. The book is titled Korea-Japan Joint History Textbook: Chosun Tongshinsa.

Albeit a small step toward sharing the understanding of history, this kind of joint experiment is an important beginning, affirming the possibility of historical reconciliation.

Forming a common understanding of history in the minds of our future generation is one of the most important tasks before us. The joint history research experiences between Germany and France, and Germany and Poland serve as good examples.

At the same time, I believe that not only the role at the governmental level but also that of the civic society is important for creating a new future of East Asian unity. To overcome its past-oriented conversative values and advance towards future-oriented universal values of mankind, it is necessary for civic societies in Northeast Asia to establish a close network. This is especially so in that the issue of understanding of history cannot be left as the responsibility of the government alone.

As a Korean politician who has lived through compressed growth and dynamic democratization firsthand, I am proud to be the neighbor of Japan, which shares the values of democracy and market economy.

While Korean children are building their imagination by watching Japanese animations by world-renowned director Miyazaki Hayao, numerous Japanese citizens have opened their hearts wide to Korea after watching the Korean soap opera, "Winter Sonata."

I also remember that the selection rate of the controversial history textbook four years ago was 0.039%.

Esteemed leaders of Japan,

The world will closely watch how the two countries will resolve the present dispute. Based on mutual understanding and trust, the people of the two countries should remove the obstacles before them, and move towards building a Northeast Asian cooperative body of peace and prosperity.

President Roh Moo-hyun appealed in a consistent manner that as partners of fate, Korea, China, and Japan should create an order of cooperation and unity to achieve co-prosperity in Northeast Asia.

Based on the understanding of historical problems, South Korea has recently declared its role as a balancer of peace in Northeast Asia and as a facilitator of cooperation. Here, the meaning of "balancer" does not refer to "power diplomacy" based on the balance of military power of the 19th century. Northeast Asia, like Europe of the 21st century, will pursue the role of a regional moderator and peace promoter in this region to advance towards a new unity.

Korea is the geopolitical bridge between the continent and the ocean, and the historical bridge between the Cold War's past and future reconciliation. When Korea pursues values of democracy and market economy, and plays the role of a buffer between the developed and developing nations, achieving a future of peace, mutual political respect, and economic prosperity will not be impossible in Northeast Asia.

One historical tradition that Korea can proudly speak of in the international community is "peace."

Korea is also the biggest victim of modern conflict in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the Second World War, the Korean Peninsula was at the front line of battle and remains today as the last lonely island of the Cold War.

Is Peaceful Resolution of the North Korean Nuclear Issue Possible?

All Koreans sincerely desire peace on the Peninsula, not war. Being born right after the Korean War, I was a member of the new generation that joined the ranks of economic development and democratization. It is my calling as a Minister of Unification to put a real end to the Cold War order on the Korean Peninsula.

Peace on the Korean Peninsula is the precondition for peace in Northeast Asia, as well as for the formation of a cooperative body in Northeast Asia. I would like to ask Japan to contribute to the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula based on its half-century long, post-war experience as a nation of peace. I expect Japan, which attained great economic growth thanks to the special procurement during the 1950 Korean War, will now play a greater role for the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia.

Another crucial issue that we must tackle for a peaceful and prosperous Northeast Asia is the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. South Korea is exerting its utmost efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through diplomacy with the international community as well as inter-Korean relations.

After 10 month · long stalemate, inter-Korean dialogue was resumed in Gaesong last week. We strongly urged the North not only to normalize inter-Korean relations but also to comply with the principle of a nuclear-free Peninsula. The principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not only an important commitment between the two Koreas, but also an understanding agreed upon among the neighboring countries.

I am sure that Inter-Korean dialogues in the future will create an important environment and condition for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

Five years after the 2000 South · North Korean Summit, many tasks remain, but a lot has been achieved as well. Roads and railroads crossing the history of division have been reconnected, and the construction of the Gaesong Industrial Complex that is of mutual benefit for both Koreas has made consistent progress. Steady progress of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation will reduce North Korea's fear of reform and opening up and provide an opportunity for North Korea to participate as a member of the international society.

South Korea is going to take an active and leading role in the peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue. Once the six-party talks resume, we will put an important proposal on the table for the practical resolution of the nuclear issue. If the six-party talks resume, the talks should not be a meeting just for the sake of meeting. The talks have to be a "serious negotiation of give and take" for reaching a practical settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue in which North Korea has to abandon its nuclear ambition and accept thorough verification, whereas the United States has to guarantee North Korea's security and pursue normalization of relations.

The 20th century was a time of hostility and conflict. The 21st century must be an era of reconciliation and cooperation. With Japan lies an important responsibility to open a time of peace for Asia and the world in the 21st century.

In that respect, it is unfortunate that the great diplomatic accomplishment of North Korea · Japan Pyongyang Declaration dated September 2002 has not been realized. The Pyongyang Declaration has played a constructive role in the launching of the six-party talks with its phrase regarding multilateral cooperation for peace and security of Northeast Asia. Normalization of relations between North Korea and Japan will be very conducive to establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Distinguished participants,

Once we resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully and share future-oriented values among South Korea, China, and Japan, Northeast Asia can make strides towards peace and prosperity. Instead of nationalism and competition for hegemony, we must, through mutual learning and respect, build a complementary and cooperative structure. The creation of a democratic, rational, and harmonious order of a new Northeast Asia can no longer be delayed.

We must open an age of Northeast Asia of peace and co · prosperity through sincere historical reconciliation, mutually beneficial economic cooperation, and cultural exchanges that would lead to enhanced mutual understanding.

South Korea will work hard and consistently for the future of Northeast Asia based on cooperation. Longing is hope. Although we cannot see, hope is a definite proof for the future. If South Korea and Japan and the leaders of East Asia present here work together, our hope for the future of East Asia can be realized.

Honored leaders of Korea, Japan, and East Asia gathered here today,

If we pool our efforts with courage for the future, East Asia would be able to embark on a great history of unity that Europe was able to achieve.

It is my hope that we will be able to move together towards a future of peace and co-prosperity.

Thank you.

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.