I am honoured to address the Korea Society in my final year as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
I am a proud past recipient of the Society’s Van Fleet Award, which I received in 2004, when I was the Republic of Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
I congratulate tonight’s winner, the Honorable Kwon Ohjoon, the Chairman of Posco, one of Korea’s leading manufacturing companies.
I have had the privilege of addressing the Korea Society on many occasions through the years.
Again and again, I have seen how the Korea Society continues to play a vital bridge-building role between the Republic of Korea and the United States. The two-way traffic has been busy and beneficial.
In the same way, as Secretary-General, I have tried to bring Korea to the world, and the world to Korea.
As someone who grew up in war-torn Korea, I brought with me a strong sense of the difference the United Nations can make – and firsthand proof that a country can rewrite its future.
Early in my tenure, I came here to the Korea Society and stressed that climate change would be one of my top priorities. Last month, our efforts made history when 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement -- the most signatures on any international treaty, convention or agreement on a single day. I will count on Korea to be among the early ratifiers. I urge Korean businesses to seize the opportunities of renewable energy and low-carbon growth.
I also emphasized the need to accelerate efforts to reach the eight Millennium Development Goals. Now we have a new generation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs – an inspiring blueprint for prosperity and peace on a healthy planet.
These milestones point the way toward a better future for all.
But we also face serious tests. Conflicts from Syria to Darfur. The refugee crisis. Terrorism and extremism. Violence against women and girls. Discrimination against minorities.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is a further source of concern.
Despite continuous international efforts, tensions have not subsided. Instead we have seen the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conduct provocative nuclear tests and missile launches, in defiance of Security Council resolutions. Human rights violations in the DPRK have been well documented by United Nations experts – including thousands of political detainees suffering in harsh conditions. Hunger and malnutrition remain at deeply troubling levels. Meanwhile, military spending grows.
I strongly encourage the DPRK to prevent further escalation, comply with its international obligations, and return to multilateral negotiations. A diplomatic solution is the only way out of such a complex and dangerous situation. I also encourage the DPRK to heed the recommendations that have emerged from its dialogue with the Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review.
The international community agrees – it is time for peace, stability and verifiable denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. More nuclear weapons and more ballistic missiles will only mean more insecurity for the DPRK and its people.
As Secretary-General, I will spare no effort to support meaningful engagement towards peace, prosperity and justice on the Korean Peninsula.
The relationship between the two Koreas is critical for lasting peace. Both sides should engage in dialogue that can bring the people closer. Humanitarian matters, such as family reunions and life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable, including children, should be decoupled from political and security matters. I hope we can bring forward the day when the Peninsula’s young people craft a future of unity, prosperity and dignity for all.
Looking more broadly across Asia, we can see a region continuing its rise while facing challenges that endanger prosperity and stability. These include competing territorial or maritime claims and political and communal tensions.
I welcome the renewed initiative by the Republic of Korea, Japan and China to hold high-level meetings more regularly.
My strong counsel to all countries in the region is the same:
Engage in dialogue.
Expand productive cooperation.
Move towards mutual trust and full reconciliation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish the Korea Society continued success. It will be especially important for you to reach out to younger generations. The future of Korea’s global identity depends on nurturing global-mindedness among Korean youth today.
The international help that Koreans received decades ago creates a moral obligation for us to help others today. At the same time, it is essential to building a better world for all.
Your efforts and mine depend on our allegiance not only to Korean identity or American identity, but to the great cause of humanity that binds us.
I still remember my sense of hope upon seeing the United Nations flag all those years ago. For the past decade, I have tried to bring that same feeling to others – and to leave to my successor an Organization that stands steadfastly with all people in their quest for lives of dignity, justice and peace.