Keynote Speech for
Tasks for Inter-Korean Relations of
Mutual Benefits and Common Prosperity
October 22, 2008
Minister of Unification
Honorable Chairman Chung Sehyun of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, Chairman Chung Jungsup of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, allow me to offer my heartfelt congratulations on the successful opening of this year's international conference jointly hosted by KCRC and KNCCK. They have chosen "Peace on the Korean Peninsula and a Future of Unification" as this year's theme. I'm sure all of you will agree that this is not only a timely but a very important topic, especially as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea.
Let me also extend my deep appreciation to everyone who has contributed to this conference. I thank the scholars and experts, especially those from abroad, for their valuable presentations and for their penetrating insight.
Today's conference is especially meaningful in that it is co-hosted by the KCRC and KNCCK, two key players in promoting inter-Korean exchanges and providing humanitarian aid to North Korea.
Both organizations aim to achieve national unity and reconciliation and promote humanitarianism and fraternity. As such, these organizations and others like them will be the driving forces behind our efforts in bringing about national reunification.
Once again, I take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to Chairman Chung Sehyun and Chairman Chung Jungsup and all the other members of the two organizations for their hard work in advancing inter-Korean relations.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
First and foremost, the policy of the Lee Myung-bak government towards North Korea is about bringing mutual benefits and common prosperity to the Korean peninsula.
Through consistent implementation of this policy, the government aims to establish peace, create an economic community that will lead to mutual benefits between the two Koreas and also resolve various humanitarian issues. By doing so, we believe we can achieve the ultimate goal of our policy, which is to lay the firm foundation for peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula. Diverse efforts are being pursued to this end.
However, current inter-Korean relations are not meeting the expectations of the South Korean people.
Despite our repeated proposals, North Korea has unilaterally suspended dialogue.
North Korea has gone even further by issuing statements severely criticizing our president and our government.
While North Korea talks of completely severing inter-Korean relations, it even threatens us by insinuating the possibility of military clashes and even war.
When our citizens hear such blatant remarks from North Korea, instead of being shaken by such rhetoric, they are frustrated.
As such, our government will maintain our resolve and despite such provocations, we will continue to make consistent efforts to improve inter-Korean relations.
Promoting Dialogue with North Korea
On April 17th, President Lee proposed the establishment of standing liaison offices and our government has repeatedly proposed engaging in comprehensive dialogue regarding this issue.
However, arguing that the Lee Myung-bak government is implementing hostile policies towards it, North Korea has not responded and remained negative about our proposal.
North Korea has criticized that the Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness is an anti-unification rhetoric that would ruin inter-Korean relations. They insist that the initiative must be abandoned if we wish to resume inter-Korean dialogue.
We have made it very clear that the Vision 3000 initiative does not require the North to abandon its nuclear programs as a precondition, as wrongly claimed by Pyongyang. Rather, it is a policy that will enable gradual expansion of inter-Korean cooperation in accordance with progress made in the denuclearization process.
Denuclearization of North Korea is the most critical issue that must be resolved if we wish to establish peace on the Korean peninsula. Therefore, this is an inter-Korean as well as an international issue.
Moreover, Pyongyang must faithfully implement denuclearization if it wishes to revive its economy. This is why we cannot afford to ignore this issue.
North Korea has also insisted that the Lee government has denied or ignored the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration that the two Koreas agreed during the previous inter-Korean summit meetings. They demand that the government acknowledge these agreements and implement them unconditionally.
However, our government has never denied the two summit declarations.
Some of the important agreements made between the two Koreas in the past, including these two declarations, were implemented while others have not. Whether they have been implemented or not, all of previous agreements were made out of a desire to improve inter-Korean relations and to promote peace on the Korean peninsula.
The government respects the spirits of those inter-Korean agreements aimed at improving inter-Korean relations. In this context, the government hopes that the two Koreas can find practical ways to implement the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration.
President Lee has made this point clear to the South Korean public as well as to the world.
North Korea must not distort our intension based on its misunderstanding of our policy. It must not refuse to talk to us.
If North Korea believes that implementing the October 4 Declaration is such a critical issue, it should come forward and engage in dialogue without any conditions. We must sit down and have a serious discussion on how to implement the agreement.
The government urges Pyongyang to come forward for dialogue and expects that it will do so.
Once inter-Korean dialogue resumes, the two Koreas will be able to discuss and resolve various pending issues between them, including the implementation of the two joint declarations.
They would also be able to promote bilateral cooperation in a bold and comprehensive manner.
Strengthening National Consensus
In the process of promoting North Korea policy in the past, ideological clashes and conflicts within South Korea inevitably occurred.
Because of its sensitive nature, there is always the possibility that policies related to North Korea may cause division within South Korea. Such division may have negative consequences on policy implementation and also harm domestic stability.
Therefore, our North Korea policy will place high priority on building national consensus and winning public support.
In building national consensus, the government will always be mindful of national interest in devising and implementing our North Korea policy.
We wish to take inter-Korean relations a step further not by denying but by taking advantage of the accomplishments made under the previous government. At the same time, we will be resolute in our determination to resolve the issues the public wants us to address.
I believe this is the way to win strong bipartisan cooperation and build public consensus.
From such a perspective, the government has continued promoting those projects that have supported reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas over the past ten years.
The number of cross-border travellers and the volume of inter-Korean trade continue to grow every day.
The number of cross-border travellers increased by 37 percent last year, and the volume of commercial trade between the two Koreas also went up by 13 percent.
The number of South Korean companies operating their factories in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and that of North Korean workers employed by them have almost doubled during the same period.
Mt. Geumgang tourism will be resumed if Pyongyang returns to the dialogue table and an agreement on resolving the shooting incident is made between the two Koreas.
Some people misunderstand that the Lee Myung-bak government is dismissive of the previous government's policy and accomplishments, but in fact, this is not the case.
The view that the government has adopted an overly hard-line policy toward the North is either preconceived or biased.
From the standpoint of pragmatism and national interest, the government will actively promote anything that is necessary in advancing inter-Korean relations in future-oriented ways.
We will not directly respond to North Korea's negative actions, but stay calm and firm while continuing to push for dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas.
Through an expansion of mutually-beneficial economic cooperation, we will help North Korea rebuild its economy and make our economy strengthen itself.
From a humanitarian perspective, we are ready to help the North in alleviating its severe food shortage.
The government will cope with pending inter-Korean issues with flexibility to create an opportunity to advance inter-Korean relations, and hold firm to our principles to reinforce national consensus.
If more and more citizens call for improving inter-Korean relations and they say this with one voice, then national consensus will be further strengthened.
And for this to happen, North Korea must stop criticising our president immediately. Denouncing our president and government is something that a cooperative partner must avoid.
Strengthening International Cooperation
In the meantime, the Lee Myung-bak government will work hard on the Six-party Talks in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue as soon as possible.
As we speak, the North Korean nuclear issue is entering into a new phase.
As progress is being made in the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs with the successful completion of the disablement process and the verification of it, we are ready to help North Korea modernize its economy with close cooperation from the international community.
Cooperation between the two Koreas and cooperation with the international community are two key elements in accomplishing peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula. In this sense, Six-party Talks provides an important opportunity for us.
If the dismantlement of North Korean nuclear programs goes as planned, serious consultations on establishing a durable peace regime on the Korean peninsula could also begin.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On October 12, the United States removed North Korea from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism.
This is something Pyongyang has desired for the last twenty years. The removal from the list now allows North Korea to take part in the activities of the international community.
Now, North Korea has a choice. It can choose the path whereby it can ensure stability and prosperity for itself through cooperation with and participation in the international community.
We need to help North Korea take advantage of this opportunity to become a responsible member of the international community.
North Korea's denuclearization, assurance of peace and ultimate unification on the Korean peninsula will advance peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.
This is our hope and dream which, I believe, can be attained.
Facing a domestic and international economic crisis, there is absolutely no reason for South and North Korea to quarrel with or be jealous of each other. It is also not reasonable for us to denounce each other or refuse to cooperate.
History has taught us that viewing inter-Korean issues with an ideological framework is now outdated.
Now is the time that we should deal with tasks ahead of us through a positive and future-oriented approach with an aim of achieving mutual-benefits and common prosperity between the two Koreas.
When we do this, the international community will happily lend us a hand.
I believe it is meaningful that today's academic conference is taking up this very issue.
Once again, I would like to extend my congratulations on the opening of the conference. I hope that it contributes to opening the future for a peaceful and unified Korean peninsula.