Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, Chairman of the Global Peace Foundation, gave an exclusive interview on Yonhap Special in late August. The segment, called “Let us Dream the Korean Dream” followed the 2019 One Korea International Forum held August 14th at the Plaza Hotel in Seoul, Korea.
The One Korea International Forum convened over 400 notable civil society and governmental leaders to discuss a wide range of topics related to Korean reunification and nationbuilding from within what has been dubbed the “Korean Dream” framework.
In the interview, Dr. Moon explains the need for a comprehensive strategy that works towards the substantial outcome of Korean reunification in order to peacefully yet decisively address the many threats posed by the current North Korean regime. He also expands on the significance of the the March 1st Independence movement that began 100 years ago in 1919 and its ties to current efforts to realize a “free, independent, united” Korean nation.
Yonhap news: Dr. Moon, hello.
Hyun Jin Moon: Nice to meet you.
Yonhap: Could you explain about Korean Dream?
Hyun Jin Moon: Okay, Korean Dream. The Korean Dream is really based upon the book that I wrote, Korean Dream: A Vision for a Unified Korea, but it is inspired by the vision of the philosophical ideal of Hongik Ingan, that the destiny of the Korean people is to create a model nation that can benefit all humanity.
Now the reason why this is so significant, especially at this time in our history, is because this year represents the hundredth year of the independence movement. And it was this philosophy—our founding philosophy—that was the inspiration of the independence movement; to not reinstate the Chosun dynasty, but to create a new nation and at that time, they found inspiration from western style Republican democracy. Therefore, their aspiration was to create a republic. As you know, at that time the Shanghai government was called the Republic of Korea and eventually with the creation of the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea), they also tried to claim that their name was Republic of Korea. That’s why they have it in their name as well. So, the roots of both Koreas are tied to the independence movement and that’s why that’s very, very significant.
This time we just finished the conference in recognition of the liberation of Korea on August 15th with the liberation of Korea. So, this is even more significant in that with the end of World War II, the hopes of the Liberation Movement could have been realized. That was a time of tremendous possibility where that dream could have been realized but it was not. Three years later you had the separation of the two Koreas.
So, I believe that this is really an opportune moment for the Korean people to be reminded as to what the aspiration of our forefathers were to give light and meaning to the challenges that we currently face on the peninsula today. I think the way forward is really the Korean Dream, in which I basically tried to encapsulate the vision of the independence movement going forward, to create a model ideal nation—a new model ideal nation.
Yonhap: One Dream
Moon: One Dream.
Yonhap: At the International Forum on One Korea, which was held in December 2018, you said that the US should abandon is narrow bilateral approach to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and use a comprehensive strategic framework with the ultimate goal of peaceful reunification. Then, what should the South Korean government do?
Moon: Yes, I think first of all, this is a very complex issue because South Korea has been working on this for the last 74 years. So has the United States. I think this is an opportunity for both governments to take one step back and to recalibrate and assess how successful this negotiation process for denuclearization was. Now, before the bilateral talks between the United States and the DPRK, you had the six-party framework, but still there was a negotiation to try to negotiate a way—a very narrow focus—which was to denuclearize North Korea over the last 30 plus years. We are no closer to denuclearization from when the talks first started.
This is an opportunity recognizing the fact that through the bilateral discussions between North Korea and South Korea, that the stated goal for the discussion is unification. Unification is already on the table. So, the US has to recognize that unification as a framework is already there. So, they need to readjust their strategy based upon this new existing reality. And I believe that unification will fulfill the denuclearization process because based upon the Korean dream model, which is to create a new nation, this nation will be a peaceful nation and therefore will not be a nuclear threat, not only to this region but with the world.
I think the US has to have a very realistic, larger strategic policy for denuclearization. I think they’ve already shown that denuclearizing through negotiations has completely failed. So, I don’t know if you’re a student of history, but I am, and the two most successful US policies that basically changed the geopolitics of the world came after 1945 with the Marshall Plan in Europe and MacArthur’s plan of reconstruction of Japan. The reason why it was successful was because it was strategic. It was all-encompassing. That is the way in which the US needs to look at Korea policy. And if you look at it from this point then unification—I know that many South Koreans are worried about the costs of unification. I think, first of all, this is the wrong concept. Unification should be looked at as a merger. So, the difference between a cost perspective and a merger perspective, is that a merger creates synergies that creates additional value. So, when you look at—very simply—when you look at South Korean economy, you look at North Korea North Korean economy, you have a very mature, rich South, but resource-poor. You have a very poor North but resource-rich. It’s almost like a perfect marriage in terms of economic development for the future. So, a lot of the pundits that talk about cost, I don’t think they’re factoring this in.
Another thing that they’re not factoring in is that if the US recalibrates and looks at Korea policy strategically, then the US will make an investment in the unification process as well so it won’t be just South Korea carrying the burden of unification – kind of like what many people say happened in Germany, etc. — it will be the entire global community, especially the nations that are most concerned about security here in Southeast Asia in East Asia.
Yonhap: What comprehensive strategy would you propose to the Korean youth and governments as well as the International Community?
Moon: I think the young people are going to be the most affected by unification. Therefore, they should be should be the ones that are most interested and would want to seek the most information as to what unification will bring. I know that many young people here, although Korea is the 12th largest economy in the world, cannot find a job. The unemployment rate among the 20 to 30 demographic is above 10 percent, which is—should not—be acceptable. But it shows the fundamental weakness in the South Korean economy. I know that South Koreans like to think that the South Korean economy is actually a capitalist system, but actually it’s not. It’s a crony capitalist system due to the Cheobol system. So, if you if you think about it, this fundamental weakness—the fact that they cannot generate enough jobs for the young people—is a fundamental problem and will be something that the Korean political leaders and business leaders need to face.
One of the things that needs to happen is you need to privatize banking. There has to be greater ways in which average people who have brilliant ideas—that means young people who might be the next Steve Jobs or the next Bill Gates—they need to have the ability to be able to get access to capital. But in Korea that reality doesn’t exist. In the US, it exists. Not here in Korea. So, banking reform is absolutely necessity.
Yonhap: So, it is a structural and governmental problem?
Moon: In South Korea there are many – politically as well as economically. That’s why, for young people to be able to create a new nation that does everything right—fixes all the mistakes both in South Korea and North Korea—becomes a pretty exciting proposition. Does it not? Imagine the ability to be able to create a new nation aligned with the Hongik Ingan ideal that wants to benefit all humanity. Yet, let’s benefit the Korean people first. Let’s unite the home. Let’s offer opportunity that can really, really drive the full potential of what this nation can offer to the world. That is what unification offers. That’s what the Korean Dream is all about. That’s why it’s a Dream.
Yonhap: You have said that the Korean Independence Movement on March 1, 1919 was a significant milestone in the Democracy movement in the 20th century and it aimed to create a new independent united nation. The fact that the Korean provisional government based in Shanghai was called the Republic of Korea further emphasized such aspiration. Why do you believe this has particular importance today when we are celebrating its 100th anniversary?
Moon: Because that’s why I say from the March 1st movement, we’ve really tied the Korean Dream paradigm to the Independence Movement because it encapsulates their aspirations. Now, why was that significant? Because, as a student of history, the Korean Independence Movement 1919 launched all the independence movements across Asia and also Africa. We were the first ones to actually be so inspired by what was being talked about in Versailles, that it actually led throughout the 20th century to all the national movements which led to their independence.
Except that reality was not to come to pass for Koreans. One thing that Koreans need to understand is that in 1948 there was supposed to be a national election that creates a unified government. But that never happened with the creation of South Korea and the creation of the DPRK.
So, the way in which Koreans should look at these two realities is as interim governments for the unfulfilled promise of 1948, which was to create a Unified Government. That’s why the Korean Dream in creating a new nation encapsulates not only the aspirations of the March 1st movement, but it also encapsulates the potential opportunity and hope that existed in 1945 upon liberation from Japan with the end of the Pacific War.
Yonhap: So that movement ignites our inspirations.
Moon: Yes, and I think Koreans need a lot of inspiration at this time. It is a very dangerous time in our history.
Yonhap: Wow, it’s amazing. You’re emphasizing the spirit of the March 1st movement to create a new united nation. Could you explain what it means?
Moon: First, I want to challenge all people—all Koreans—to become the owner of the Korean Dream. I open my book with quote my Genghis Khan. That quote is, “If one person has a dream it is but a dream, but if everyone shares in that dream, it becomes reality.”
I think many times, especially when I speak to people here in South Korea, they have deferred their sense of ownership in terms of their future and the future of this peninsula to their leaders. I think it’s a big mistake. Maybe it’s because I grew up in America that I feel that people have the power to be able to change fundamentally very important, big things. But I think here in South Korea many people especially young people don’t feel like that. I think that’s a tremendous shame. If you look at even the history of South Korea moving from the military dictatorship to democracy, it was young people and it was a citizen-led movement that brought about that transformation.
Every major shift, fundamental, transformative shift in Korean history—as well as world history—has always been people-led. So this is something where I think the Korean people need to be empowered to feel that they can make a difference and that is why I wrote the Korean Dream book—A Vision for a Unified Korea—and I launched the AKU movement (Action for Korea United). And it was so exciting to see that the Korean Dream vision and this movement now as a vehicle has inspired so many people to get involved—people that might not necessarily have gotten involved—they’re actually getting involved in the unification movement.
So, this time at this convention we brought all the top leaders of the US diaspora community in the United States. They were never organized together—first time ever in the history of the diasporic communities and United States as well as history South Korea, that we have the largest civic movement for unification here, but tied now to diaspora communities.
Yonhap: So, it is already done?
Moon: Yes, so based on this conference that we have here, we tied it there. All of them came over here completely excited. You have to understand, many Koreans that went to America, they were escaping South Korea because they didn’t like how things were over here. Right? But the fact that now this vision—the Korean Dream vision—encapsulates the creation of a new nation that has the best of the West and the East, they want to be part of it and I think every Korean person here in South Korea as well as the US and all around the world should be part of this.
I believe that if every Korean is the owner of the Korean dream, that unification will come sooner than most people think. Do not rely on your political leaders. They’ve made the mess that we see today.
Yonhap: For this movement to be done, you dreamed first.
Moon: Yeah, you need to dream. How you think becomes your reality. So, if you think it’ll never happen, that is your reality. But if you believe, it could happen. Think about all the opportunity that it opens up.
Yonhap: I think I just got the Dream from you, from this interview. Thank you. And you were working on global unification movement led by citizens so why is it important for such movement to be led by citizens?
Moon: It has to be people-led because that’s how you establish the legitimacy.
It has to be the will of the people that is expressed. And that’s one of the reasons why I quote Genghis Khan all the time. I know that many Korean politicians have copied that quote and they say it’s an old Korean saying but that’s not true. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. It’s actually from Genghis Khan, the one that created the largest Empire and established Pax Mongolia which led to Marco Polo coming to China and basically West and East coming together. That was because of the Mongols. That’s why I use him as an example in the first chapter of my book and I opened my book with that quote—if one person has a dream, it’s just a dream. But if everyone shares in that dream, it becomes reality. I think that that insight is tremendously profound and that’s something that the Korean people should really take to heart.
But what’s most important is to get inspired and then become an owner. Empower yourself. Learn. That’s why I wrote my book. Go buy my book. Read it. Join AKU. Do something to make your current reality. Don’t accept your current reality if it’s not good. If it’s not good, change it. Make a difference. That’s why I created AKU.
Yonhap: Given that it is a social movement that you are involved in—it is almost new nation building—I believe it requires more than just vision. Please introduce actual cases of new nation building.
Moon: Yes. Paraguay—as you know, GPF (Global Peace Foundation) does a lot of work around the world. So, one of the things that we helped around the world is actually helping to transform nations from their current state to a better state, which offers opportunity and freedom to all their citizens.
Paraguay is a very good case in point. When I first went there in 2008 there was a [U.S.] State Department advisory “do not go to Paraguay” because of the fact that the country was in turmoil. At that time the president of Paraguay—one of the largest landowners in Paraguay—wanted to expropriate all of our lands, seize private property. So, I had to go down there and I had to talk to the Paraguayan government as well as a lot of leaders over there.
To make a long story short, I changed the Paraguay president’s mind after an hour of heated debate in terms of how seizure of private property will actually make things worse for Paraguay because nobody would want to invest. There wouldn’t be any direct foreign investment. So recognizing the significance of private property is absolutely essential for any type of aid and any type of development. So he agreed with me and so from that point on we worked with the Paraguayan government and all the Ministries in building the fundamental foundations for building a stable, working, ethical—and that’s still a challenge but much better than 2008 with the democratic process as well as now working with economic reform that’s actually raised Paraguay to the point where it’s recognized by Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index
as a real model case study. There are many, many interested parties from Europe as well as Latin America that actually wants to invest there. So I think that’s a very good case study.
Anybody who is successful always wants to learn. They should be constantly curious and I think this is really where a lot of the insular dialogue that has been going on in terms of how can we reform North Korea? It’s an insular echo chamber in South Korea. I think what you need to do is you need to be speaking to people like me, who has experience around the world with other nations, other cultures, and see models where we can take a nation that’s very, very dysfunctional to be something that is worthy of recognition and direct foreign investment. So, I believe that can happen in North Korea. I’m actually confident.
I think that this is something that needs to be discussed more.
And I think by me offering these types of conferences, I’m actually creating the dialogue which can stimulate people to think and to look at things differently.
Yonhap: Then why is Paraguay, as you mentioned earlier, important for the Korean Peninsula?
Moon: Because Paraguay in Latin America was called the basket case of Latin America. In Northeast Asia, I think North Korea clearly is a basket case.
Yonhap: As a person who has supported a citizen-led Global unification movement, what do you think of the inter-Korean economic cooperation?
Moon: I think it’s premature. I think it’s wishful thinking. I think fundamental steps need to be made first before you can actually start to have inter-Korean economic participation that’s actually meaningful and that will actually lead to something. I cite one of the problems that I saw with the sunshine policy and also, through my speeches, I cited some of the errors that this current administration had in terms of engagement with the North.
Engagement for the sake of engagement doesn’t lead to any outcomes except what you see today. When you want to engage with somebody there has to be a reason why you want to engage them, right? It has to be outcome driven and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote my book because the premise is, if we’re going to engage North Korea—or South Korea is going to engage North Korea—then there has to be a reason, a purpose, behind that engagement that both parties can agree on. And so, every talk, every conversation, can lead to that end but that wasn’t here, not only in the Sunshine Policy, but even in this current administration’s engagement with the North. And so we see the outcome for what it is today.
You started with the PyeongChang Olympics, joint South and North participation, and now you have North Korea shooting missiles and threatening South Korea and calling the president of South Korea all manners of things that a nation should not be doing. So this is the problem with this misguided thinking, that somehow just dialogue will all of a sudden change things, or economic involvement will all of a sudden change things. No, it won’t.
You need to build a fundamental outcome-base that both parties could agree with and then you need to move towards that end. There has to be a purpose behind engagement.
Yonhap: It’s easy to always talk about process as being important—
Moon: But process is not important, honestly speaking. This is one of the reasons why I wrote my book. Because everybody who used to talk about unification, who always focused on the process— I think they’re completely wrong.
Okay, and maybe it’s because they’re all academics that never operate in the real world. So, they only operated the world of theory.
If you want to get something done, you have to be outcome-driven. You have to establish an outcome and then the process has to be flexible that allows you to reach that outcome. It’s not the other way around. You don’t build a process and then eventually end at an outcome that you might not like. If you do that, you’re not going to be very successful. So, I think the approach had been wrong from the very beginning. It has to be outcome-driven and the process should be the byproduct of wanting to reach that outcome.
Yonhap: Then as a private question, for your intuition to be done as an outcome, then what do we have to do?
Moon: That’s why vision is so important and that’s why history is so important and that’s why when you hear me speak not only in the content of the Korean Dream book, but also all my speeches—if you read all my speeches—history is the contextual background because that is the legitimacy. And that’s why the Korean Independence Movement is so significant at this time. Given the fact that now we’re celebrating is hundred-year centennial. That is what gives the legitimacy for both governments to recalibrate and recognize what’s best for both of them. And that’s why the Koreans Dream paradigm and framework—I believe—is not only so novel but I think it can lead to real outcomes because it’s something that is connected to the history of both North and South Korea.
Yonhap: I think I need to learn history a lot.
Moon: You need to read my book! (laughter)
Yonhap: Yes (laughter) Okay.
Moon: And so does every other Korean in South Korea.
Yonhap: Of course!
Moon: It should be a part of the curriculum of every school.
Yonhap: In what aspect do you think moral and Innovative leadership is important in the creation of the new United Nation as well as economic cooperation between the two Koreas?
Moon: Leadership is everything. It’s not any kind of leadership. It’s a certain kind of leadership.
I believe that leadership should be moral. In other words, it should be guided by principles and values. And I believe that leadership should be innovative because the way in which you create value is through creativity. So that’s why the leadership Paradigm that GPF sponsors around the world and which had been fundamental to the transformation of many dysfunctional nations, was this moral and Innovative leadership framework.
You’d be surprised at how many people lives their nations have been transformed by this framework. I know that South Korea, although we are just a democratic nation, it’s one of the most corrupt democracies among the more prosperous nations of the world and I think this is really where leadership once again becomes so important. Leadership for the sake of leadership is not leadership. Leadership has to be guided by principles and values. Therefore, it has to be moral and it has to be innovative. You can’t think in the box. You’ve got to be thinking out of the box.
One of the things I would like to recommend for Korean people—as I know that many Koreans are now traveling a lot—I think that’s a very good trend. When I look at Korean domestic politics, it is too insular. It’s an echo chamber of just a small little South Korea. I think what they need to do is they need to expand and see what’s happening the rest of the world. And that has to affect current politics.
Yonhap: From the perspective of the Global Peace Foundation, how do you think the announcement of an end of War declaration and denuclearization should progress?
Moon: So like I said, I don’t think the end of War Proclamation if both parties are clear in terms of what the outcome of the engagement is will actually do anything. It’ll make a good photo op and good news around the world, but I don’t know if that will really lead to anything clearly, because you have a partner up in the north that could change things just like that.
So, I think from the very beginning it has to be clear as to what the outcome is and there has to be a basic agreement on both sides towards that outcome. And that’s one of the reasons why I believe the Korean dream framework is so powerful.
Yonhap: But one idea that came to my mind from this, from now on when you progress and make every hardships on to make innovative outcome, but they will be hardships, then how do you manage it?
Moon: That’s why you have to be innovative. You have to be creative. So, remember what I told you: Outcome and then process. The process has to be flexible. Okay, but if you’re clear on what the outcome is, there’s always a way.
Yonhap: Okay, I’ll keep that in mind. And the final question. How does the world see the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula today?
Moon: I think—and this is something the South Koreans need to be very aware of—I think South Korea is in a more dangerous position than ever before in Korea’s history. There is a potential for a regional Cold War type of situation. Now that you have the intrusion of Russia and China into the peninsula issue, I think this is something that every current South Korean should be concerned about.
The fact that the bilateral talks with the US has clearly been violated with these missile tests by the north is something that everyone should be very concerned about. So, the situation is not good geopolitically. But I’m an eternal optimist and I believe in the destiny of the Korean people. I believe that there is going to be a way out and the way out is really every Korean being an owner of the vision for unification based on the Korean Dream paradigm.
The reason why we are here today is because the Korean people have deferred this issue to their leaders or to outside nations. I think the first thing that needs to happen is the Korean people need to take ownership. And if they do, the world will support it and the Korean leadership will support it.
I have more faith in the Korean people than the current Korean leaders. Why not dare to dream the biggest dream that was unfulfilled by your ancestors at the time of the Sam-il movement in 1919 and then eventually with Korean Independence in 1945? Why not the inheritors of that dream? And your generation realize the dream that your forefathers could not and build a new model nation that could be a benefit to all humanity and a model for the rest of the world.
Why not dare to dream big?
Yonhap: One Dream. Korean Dream.
Moon: And that dream, of course is the Korean Dream. So please go ahead. I wrote the Korean Dream book to empower the Korean people. Go read it.
AKU now is a vehicle, something that average Koreans can participate in to have their voices heard on the issue of unification. Get knowledgeable about all the issues instead of just taking things for granted. Learn. Invest. And create a new nation that could be a benefit to all mankind.
Yonhap: Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, thank you so much for this interview.
Moon: It’s my pleasure.