Global Peace Leadership Conference – Opening Plenary Keynote Address
August 18, 2012 – Seoul, Korea (Grand Hilton Hotel)
Your excellencies, honored guests, and distinguished participants from around the world. It is my great pleasure to welcome you here to this significant Global Peace Leadership Conference on a future vision for Korea and its relationship to world peace. Korea is the land of my birth, and each time I am here I feel more strongly the call of destiny to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the division of our homeland. Thank you for your participation here and your continuing support in this noble cause of peace.
Before I say more on this theme, let me first express my appreciation for those who have worked tirelessly to make this conference, and the Global Peace Festival that follows it, a reality. It is only through the commitment and sacrifice of “true owners,” who take personal responsibility for the cause, that the all too important work of peace can be advanced.
Korea Today and Need for a Vision
The theme of this conference is “The Vision for the Unification of the Korean Peninsula and Building a World of Peace.” The word “vision” was not chosen lightly. It has great significance. The situation of the Korean peninsula and the Korean people today is a tragic one. Although, after 1989, the Cold War ended everywhere else in the world, here it continues, with acts of military aggression and a looming nuclear threat. This circumstance threatens not only Koreans but the stability of the Northeast Asia region, and indeed, because of the involvement of major powers like China, the United States, Japan and Russia, the peace of the world.
Although the Korean people share 5,000 years of history and culture, for 60 years we have been divided from one another. Two opposing visions of how human beings should live together in society have faced each other across the 38th parallel and today we can clearly see their fruits. The energy and creativity of the Korean people was given free rein in the South, bringing prosperity and freedom, and raising the country to be an important global presence. In the North, we see our relatives suffering poverty, famine and oppression.
Whether we consider Korea’s destiny, which cannot flourish to the full while we are a house divided, or whether we simply respond to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the North, this situation cannot stand. And it is in this context that vision is essential. To end this bitter history of division the Korean people must come together centered upon a common vision for a united Korea. What will that vision be? This is the question that we, as Koreans, must address if we are to find a path to reconciliation and eventual unification.
Universal Principles and Values
If we step back and consider the global context, we see that what applies to Korea also applies to the world. We live at an inflection point in history, a time of rapid and historic change. Whether the impact of that change on the rest of this century is positive or negative depends on the choices we make today. Even as our world experiences greater integration through globalization and technology, there are countervailing forces of increasing social, cultural, ethnic, and religious fragmentation. These forces threaten to divide our world, creating conflict that undermines the peace and prosperity to which we aspire.
How can these forces of disintegration be addressed? Whether considering governmental institutions such as the UN, or the tools of advanced technology in this age of globalization, we must recognize that the most fundamental human problems cannot be solved by politics, diplomacy, economics, or science alone. What, then, is the compass that can help us navigate these historic changes to achieve a world of peace and prosperity? I submit to you that it is a shared spiritual vision for humanity based upon universal principles and values. And the essence of that vision must be rooted in the simple but profound idea that all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, faith, class, or gender, are part of “One Family under God.”
Sustainable solutions ultimately must address root causes and, thus, must include the intrinsic spiritual dimension of the human experience. That spirituality is the basis of fundamental truths – the universal principles and values acknowledged by all people, regardless of their particular religious orientation.
Simply put, political authority cannot mandate, nor can money buy, the virtues needed to resolve conflicts and build ethical societies. Compassion, respect for others, empathy, forgiveness, integrity and other virtuous qualities essential for peace and harmony must be motivated by the human heart and spirit. Thus, we need to establish a new framework for peace that is rooted in our shared spiritual aspirations, principles and values, and that can form the common ground for cohesion within society and for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The Korean Dream
Korea is in a unique position to contribute to the development of that vision and the framework of shared principles and values built upon it. The guiding vision that we develop for a united Korea will help to shape the global vision needed to transcend the forces of division and conflict worldwide. That vision is what I call the Korean Dream.
For the Korean people to find and ‘own’ their unique identity, and for Korea to fulfill its historic destiny, that dream must be about much more than material prosperity. Prosperity without a vision corrodes the spirit, as we see today through the increasing divorce rate and the gradual erosion of traditional Korean values. Koreans are no strangers to the importance of such a vision. We have always been altruistic and big dreamers.
It is amazing to consider that as long ago as the third millennium B.C., over 4,000 years ago, our ancestors’ lives were already guided by the philosophy of “Hong Ik In Gan.” In other words, they sought to live “for the greater benefit (or welfare) of mankind.”
This remarkable philosophy, which you might think was something that could only emerge in modern times, has been a guiding and unifying thread throughout Korean history. It has been a source of moral and spiritual strength in Korea’s many periods of suffering, even up to the Japanese occupation. When the South Korean government was formed in 1949, the Ministry of Education made Hong Ik In Gan the basis of its curriculum for moral education. Even in North Korea they respect the Hong Ik In Gan philosophy, although, of course, they have distorted it by leaving out the key element of the idea, namely respect for hananim, the One, who is above all, or as we say in English, God. Nevertheless, this vision could even form a basis for relating to North Koreans and their culture in a way that transcends the political ideologies of communism and democracy.
The roots of this Korean Dream emerged from the mists of an ancient past. In contrast, the ‘American Dream’ is recent newcomer on the stage of history. Yet there is a profound connection between the two, a connection that can serve as a bridge between the many differences of eastern and western culture.
The Roots of the American Dream
During its remarkable rise in its relatively short history, the United States has been a magnet for immigrants, coming to share in the “American Dream.” As someone born in Korea who came to America as an immigrant, and as an avid student of history, I have often asked myself: What is the essence of that dream?
I came to understand that the American dream is not about getting rich. It is not even about the democratic political process or the free market economic system. Those systems would have been empty shells without the vitality of spiritual principles and values that animated the American people in their rejection of the oppressive English monarchy, and that they poured into the structures of the nation they created. These were the secret of America’s success.
They are the basis of our modern notion of human rights and freedoms, expressed in the Declaration of Independence — a secular document expressing spiritual principles — which is the vision statement of the United States of America. It declares that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, essential human rights are not granted by any human institution but by the Creator and, therefore, cannot rightfully be abridged or denied by any government.
Korea and America: Two Dreams, One Vision
Thus the Korean Dream and the American Dream, though separated in their origins by millennia and half a globe, share the same essence. They both understand that the rights and dignity of every human being are rooted in the source from which we all come – ‘Hananim’ for the Hong Ik In Gan philosophy, and ‘the Creator’ for the Declaration of Independence – making us all members of ‘One Family under God’ regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.
Such a shared spiritual vision would not only nurture economic prosperity, but would strengthen democratic institutions, forming a bulwark against the authoritarian impulse at work in many parts of the world, and particularly in this Northeast Asia region. It would become the basis for a solution to economic inequalities, and create a substantial foundation for world peace.
The Korea United Campaign
On the foundation of this vision, GPFF has launched many practical initiatives in Korea to place the whole approach to uniting the two Koreas on a new footing. Korea United is a nationwide program engaging all Korean citizens, that challenges traditional approaches. Up to now the discussion of Korean unification has been restricted to high-level discourse among political and military leaders. Korea United is promoting a discussion in which every citizen can be engaged.
Korean unity has been seen as something that could only occur over a very long timeframe, perhaps generations. Korea United believes in preparing for unification in the short-term. Transition in authoritarian states can happen suddenly and unexpectedly as we saw with the transformation of the Soviet Union.
Finally, the question of the two Koreas has been framed as a confrontation of two systems and two ideologies – democracy and communism. Korea United is proposing an approach that can transcend the confrontation on the basis of a shared higher vision based on spiritual principles and values and rooted in Korea’s own historic philosophy of living for the benefit of mankind.
In pursuit of these goals, GPFF is engaged in partnership with over 400 different civic organizations to promote a movement for Korean unity in which all citizens can be engaged. On May 3rd, the Unification Pledge Campaign was launched in the National Assembly Building. Citizens young and old are asked to think about what they will do for unification and to commit their practical support for it in time, resources, or money. The goal is to collect millions of signatures and to create an awareness that Korean unity is the responsibility of all Koreans and not just political leaders.
The Power of 1000 Won campaign encourages people to collect a little money every day. It is especially aimed at young people so that even elementary school students can collect money that they then donate for the construction of more bakeries in North Korea to help the many children of their own age there who are going hungry.
Earlier this year the youth arm of GPFF launched the Unification Project Contest which invited college students to submit their ideas about how they can help the unification process. 100,000 won in prizes will go to 350 winners and their ideas will then be circulated through social media to build engaged support among the young for unification, so that they become anointed as the “Unification” or “U-Generation.”
GPFF’s Global Work
The work of GPFF today in Korea stands on a strong foundation of achievement globally in just a few short years. We have worked with partners in government, business, the non-profit sector, and the faith community to develop model projects that help communities and nations move beyond conflict, and promote unity. These projects show how the vision that we are One Family under God can be given concrete reality.
In the wake of the violence in Kenya after the 2007 election we worked with both political leaders from both sides and with local communities in the Rift Valley to address the roots of the conflict. In 2010 GPFF held its annual convention in Nairobi with President Kibaki as its patron. Both he and Prime Minister Odinga, the rivals in the 2007 election, spoke there on the same platform, a visible symbol of their resolution to never allow such violence to mar Kenya’s politics again. GPFF also promoted closer connections between the Kenyan government and Korean development experts.
In Paraguay we sponsor a think tank that has guided the implementation of a self-sustaining economic and good governance plan for the Chaco region, the poorest part of the country. Now it is creating a national development plan that combines strong representative democracy with economic growth on the basis of fundamental spiritual principles and moral values.
In Brazil last year we convened a meeting of former Latin American heads of state who began work on a proposal for the greater integration of Latin American nations also founded on universal principles and values. They will continue their work this year at GPFF’s annual convention in Atlanta, in the United States.
Last year in Mongolia, GPFF launched a Northeast Asia Peace initiative that will look beyond the purely political framework for peace in Korea and promote a complementary approach based on cultural, sports, and educational exchanges.
We are also active in numerous grassroots projects and community initiatives through our national chapters around the world. We work especially to engage young people in their communities, developing leadership qualities and a spirit of ownership in them through social and environmental service projects, and through character education programs.
The Rivers of Peace initiative has mobilized thousands of young people as well as civic groups to clean up the polluted Nairobi River in Kenya, and Bagmati River in Nepal. GPFF also has character education programs in several countries. In Kenya and Paraguay the national governments cooperate on the initiative, while in the U.S. and other countries local governments are involved.
Ladies and gentlemen: We stand at a crossroads in Korea’s history. The choices we make today will have great influence on the future not only of this region but for peace in the world.
Korea has a great destiny nurtured in suffering and the spiritual principles that run deep through our history. In 1929, during the dark days of occupation, Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prizewinning Indian poet, wrote of Korea:
In the golden age of Asia
Korea was one of its lamp-bearers
and that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again
for the illumination in the East.
The time that he spoke of is now. Now is the moment for Korea to fulfill its destiny. Now is when Koreans must take up and own the Korean Dream.
I want to challenge the nation of Korea to take on the mantle of global moral leadership by championing the ideals of fundamental human rights and freedoms rooted in universal principles and values.
I especially want to challenge the new generation to take charge of Korea’s destiny as their fathers and grandfathers did after the Korean War. Become the “U-Generation” that brings the healing of the division that your forebears longed to see.
Let us not rest until the dawn of peace in Korea – a dawn that will cast a bright ray of hope to all the world’s peoples. May God bless you and your families. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining together in this noble undertaking.