Secretary-General's remarks at press conference following the opening ceremony of the World Education Forum
Incheon, Republic of Korea, 19 May 2015
Thank you very much.
I am delighted to be here with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. She has brought her great vision for education to the agency’s critical work around the world.
I thank His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Hwang Woo Yea and the Korean Government for their hospitality in hosting this important conference.
This is especially meaningful for me. I am a proud Korean – and a global citizen. The engine that drives progress in Korea is education. And I count on Korea to help the United Nations rev up this engine around the world.
This World Education Forum is our chance as a human family to take stock of the Education for All targets and the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000.
We are welcoming education ministers from across the world and other key partners to chart a new transformational education agenda.
It may seem like a ‘soft’ issue – but education is urgently needed to address major threats in our world.
Violent extremists are targeting schools. They know that education is our best weapon against hateful ideologies. We will not back down.
I am now preparing a Plan of Action to mobilize action to address violent extremism. I will present this to the UN General Assembly later this year.
Meanwhile, we are doing everything possible to stop the tragedy engulfing Syria. My Special Envoy continues to meet with Syrian and international interlocutors. We must urgently help the Syrian people reach a political solution to end the conflict.
On Yemen, we are racing to meet humanitarian needs while advancing the political process. It is regrettable that the parties have resumed fighting after the five-day humanitarian pause which ended yesterday. I urge the parties to address all the pending issues through political dialogue. I reaffirm my willingness to convene a political dialogue in Geneva as soon as possible with the participation of all the parties.
We also need a political solution to the situation in Libya, which is contributing to the migration crisis.
I am deeply alarmed by the tragic deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean, the Andaman Sea here in this region and beyond.
Countries must uphold the obligation of rescue at sea and maintain the prohibition against refoulement.
In response to the situation in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca, I and other UN officials have been speaking by phone over the last few days with the region’s leaders to emphasize their obligation to protect human lives and uphold international humanitarian law.
I am encouraging them to participate in the upcoming regional meeting in Bangkok, which will be held on 29 May, on the migrant situation. I hope the meeting will lead to comprehensive outcomes at the regional and international levels based on compassion.
The United Nations will continue our humanitarian relief operations and we stand ready to assist all efforts to address the situation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Peace and security on the Korean Peninsula has always been one of my top priorities as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I believe in the power of dialogue. To address all the pending issues between the two parts of Korea, dialogue is the only way forward.
All parties would benefit from a renewed engagement and commitment to genuine dialogue. It is essential for building trust and promoting inter-Korean relations.
The United Nations is working to support all efforts to facilitate peace and stability.
This process can be expanded through practical cooperation. In this regard, I want to announce that I am going to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex this Thursday.
The Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas. It symbolizes a good way to tap the advantage of South and North Korea in a complementary manner. I hope my visit will provide positive impetus to further develop it and expand to other areas.
My visit is also significant as the first by the United Nations Secretary-General to set foot on the DPRK in more than 20 years since the last visit by the former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
As I said this morning, I reiterate my willingness to do whatever it takes to contribute to improving the inter-Korean relations and promoting reconciliation and stability on the Korean peninsula.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Globally, the United Nations is working to address hunger, poverty and climate change through our important priorities for this year.
First, we will complete the Millennium Development Goals – the largest antipoverty campaign in history.
Second, we will adopt a new vision for sustainable development, including a set of sustainable development goals to create a life of dignity for all.
Third, the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December should adopt a new, universal climate agreement.
Education is critical to all of these important initiatives.
I am confident that the success of this Forum will help put the world on a path to greater social inclusion, shared growth and lasting peace.
Q: To the Secretary-General, you said today that there is an urgent need for delinking political issues and other needs of North Korea, and that you want to create a solution. Do you see UNESCO and other UN agencies as options or as having options in terms of some kind of cultural or educational exchanges with DPRK?
SG: Thank you. That is what I, as Secretary-General of United Nations, have been stressing the importance of delinking political and security issues from humanitarian issues. As you are fully aware, the humanitarian situation, particularly for young children, infants is very dire. I’ve been urging and appealing to Republic of Korea Government leaders, former Korean President Lee [Myung-bak] and President Park [Geun-hye], to provide humanitarian assistance. I’m very much grateful by such generous statement by President Park this morning that she will delink humanitarian situations of North Korea from political and security circumstances. The United Nations is ready, the Executive Director of World Food Programme, WHO, and many other United Nations senior leaders relating to humanitarian assistance have visited and discussed this matter. I’m ready to provide such support. And I am sure that the UNESCO Director-General is also ready to engage with the DPRK authorities to cooperate in socio-economic and educational support. I’m also sure that Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister [of Republic of Korea] Hwang will take that necessary initiatives when it is necessary.
Q: You mentioned that you’d like to visit Kaesong this afternoon. Once you go to Kaesong as you explained just now, who are you going to meet and what is your agenda? Does this visit have to do with your plans for life after retirement, like what the political circles here have claimed?
SG: (Translated from Korean) This Thursday, when I visit Kaesong, I will first visit with firms and North Korean workers. I’ve long thought that Kaesong Industrial Complex is the best pilot programme that can utilize the strengths of both Koreas. Of course, Inter-Korean relations can freeze at times. But Kaesong business, despite such political situations, remains in place and I think this is very hopeful. The main purpose of my visit is to emphasize such point more and help the two Koreas be able to address problems through dialogue and practical cooperation, which can expand the dialogue framework for political issues. As to who I am going to meet exactly, I think a team will go in advance tomorrow and negotiate. My visit to the DPRK was confirmed just this afternoon, so I don’t have detailed plans for my visit. But one thing I’d like to stress and can say with a clear conscience is that my diplomatic moves come from my desire as United Nations Secretary-General to help make realistic contributions to improving inter-Korean relations. I hope you don’t presume that I have some other political motivations behind this.
Q: I’m from Bangladesh. I’d like to ask you that Myanmar is a neighbouring country of Bangladesh and the citizens of Myanmar called Rohingyas live in more than half a million live in Bangladesh illegally, and most of them are children. As Secretary-General, you should take action on this matter.
SG: As not only myself, as Secretary-General of United Nations, it is a source of concern for the international community that human rights and human dignity have not been properly protected for those people, Rohingyas or Bengalis. When I visited Myanmar in November last year, I discussed this matter very seriously with Myanmar authorities including President Thein Sein, I emphasized and am now emphasizing clearly and strongly that their human dignity and human rights, and their social, economic and political opportunities should be given as a matter of human rights. Now that we’re seeing many refugees, who are fleeing, leaving Myanmar to neighbouring countries to have better opportunities, it creates a lot of serious problems at this time, as I have just mentioned in my earlier remarks. I have been discussing this matter with the leaders in Southeast Asia, where these refugees normally are trying to land. I’m asking the leaders in the Southeast Asian region to first receive them and provide necessary humanitarian life-saving assistance. I’m looking forward to this meeting, which will be held in Bangkok on 29 May, an initiative by the Prime Minister of Thailand to have comprehensive solutions to address this one. Likewise, there is another serious issue in Europe. I visited a couple of weeks ago Italy, and visited myself Mediterranean with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and High Representative of European Union Ms. [Federica] Mogherini. I again urged the European Union leaders that they should handle this matter, a humanitarian and human rights issue, more collectively and comprehensively.
Q: You’re planning to visit DPRK the day after tomorrow. Now, dialogue between DPRK and ROK is not taking place very well. Yesterday, John Kerry visited Korea and said that the international community should take a firm stance on DPRK and apply more pressure on the country. As the US and ROK drift toward a more aggressive stance toward DPRK, what kind of message would your planned visit to DPRK send? Specifically, DPRK’s recent launch of SLBM missiles has raised arguments that DPRK needs to be sanctioned. On this, I’d like your opinion. I have another question related to domestic politics. Of course, today we should have questions about world education. But since this forum is taking place here in Korea, I can’t help but ask this question. You are being cited as a presidential hopeful and are linked to the hot potato issue of Sung Wan-jong’s list. Please comment on this.
SG: (Translated from Korean) First, the inter-Korean relations in the past 70 years-plus have seen many changes. We’ve had two joint declarations by the two Koreas, at times we’ve had progress on humanitarian issues such as the reunions of separated families, but again due to political reasons it has worsened. On these, I feel regret. As a former public servant in Korea, especially as a former public official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I’ve made efforts for inter-Korean relations. For the DPRK nuclear issue, I have the experience of working as a negotiator from the Republic of Korea. As United Nations Secretary-General, this matter should be first addressed by the two Koreas themselves, that’s most desirable, but if there is any complementary role the UN can play, I will do my best. And from the side, I’ve worked hard. Last year, I met with DPRK Foreign Minister Lee Soo-young and had a long conversation with him. Recently, I met with DPRK President of the People’s Assembly Kim Yong-nam in Moscow and in a global multilateral meeting before that, and on those occasions we had a long conversation. What I emphasize is that for all the pending issues, the two Koreas should not sit on them for a long time but should try to address the issues through active dialogue. I stressed that if they cooperate on humanitarian or economic issues while being engaged in dialogue, they may find a solution to political issues that may exist. For these reasons, I’ve decided to visit DPRK, negotiated with the two Koreas and have received both of their approval. I hope that our visit to the DPRK will help improve the inter-Korean relations and I will do all that I can in that regard. DPRK’s firing of missiles and development of nuclear weapons, all these things go against the UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, I think that it’s more appropriate for the DPRK to closely cooperate with the international community, open up to the world and focus more on improving its living conditions and economy.
On your second question related to late chairman Sung Wan-jong, I had a brief conversation with the press out on the street about two months [ago] and I think that there has been some misunderstanding. To be exact, as a member of the Chungcheong Forum, I attended the Forum several times and Mr. Sung founded a scholarship foundation, which gave hope to many students. When I was living in Korea, I met with him many times and I think we have acquainted ourselves pretty well. Personally, I feel highly regretful that he ended his life so tragically by taking such an extreme measure, and would like to offer our warm regards to his family, although it’s late. However, as the United Nations Secretary-General, I’ve done my best to fulfill my duties and for last eight and a half years I have not paid attention to Korean domestic politics for a single moment. I didn’t have time and energy for that. I’ve never once discussed Korean politics with anyone, including Mr. Sung. In this context, I said that I was not in a special relationship with Mr. Sung. Not that I don’t know who he is, but because we never sat down and had such discussions.
And I’ve seen reports having to do with my nephew. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, I feel quite ashamed that a scandal like this has surfaced and caused controversy. About my nephew’s business activities, I have never known and never took part in any of this. I’d like to tell you clearly that this has nothing to do with me. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am doing a lot of things for the international community and the international community expects a lot from me. While I am fulfilling my duties as Secretary-General, such unnecessary and incorrect allegations or rumours cause inconvenience to my work as Secretary-General. So I’d like to ask you to refrain from doing that.
Moreover, I’ve seen many reports having to do with my future political activities. I think that there are many differences between domestic politics and global politics. In my humble opinion, for domestic politics, those who sacrifice and work to contribute to the development of Korea should enter politics upon people’s judgment. I’d like to ask you to please refrain from making guesses about me, my future political activities or conducting polls that carry my name. I hope that polling agencies will not include my name in any future polls. Until my term as UN SG ends on 31 December 2016, I will not waste any moment but work towards world peace and security, sustainable development, protection of human rights, and tackling climate change, which are tasks for the well-being of humanity. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the people of Korea for generous support for me. I would appreciate the Korean public to give me an opportunity to end my term as United Nations Secretary-General successfully and proudly greet you in Korea afterward and a chance for me to feel rewarded for my work.
Off-the-Cuff on 19 May 2015