Sharing globalisation

President Kim Dae-jung of Korea, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, links human rights to economic rights

Issue 4, Volume 49, 2000

All the people of Korea should be credited for overcoming the protracted oppression of dictators and transforming the country into a viable democracy where human rights can blossom. The people of Korea have striven faithfully to bring about peace, reconciliation and cooperation in relations with North Korea.

Throughout my long struggle for democracy, I have had a brush with death on as many as five occasions and I have been subjected to six years of imprisonment and 30 years of surveillance and house arrest.

There was a time in the 1970s when the idea that Western type democracy could not be rooted in Asia gained popularity, but I absolutely rejected that theory, which was supposed to be based on cultural differences between the East and West. We can find any number of democratic traditions dating back thousands of years to ancient Confucianism, Buddhism and indigenous religions of Korea. These include "Human beings are like heaven," "Serve the people as you would serve heaven," or "Everything on the earth has the Buddha’s spirit in it."

The most formidable enemy of democracy and human rights is war. The two Koreas fought a ferocious war in the middle of the last century and have since been confronting each other. I have striven all my life to transform South-North relations of confrontation and friction into ties of peace and cooperation. Particularly since assuming the presidency, I have carried out what we call the Sunshine Policy toward Pyongyang.

The Sunshine Policy is essentially aimed at realising peaceful coexistence and exchanges with the North to prepare for eventual reunification in the future. The entire world and the Korean people actively support the policy.

A historic South-North summit was held in June 2000. That was the first inter-Korea summit since the country was divided 55 years before. In that meeting, Chairman Kim Jong-il of North Korea’s National Defence Commission and I agreed to work together to avoid another tragic war at any cost, to carry out exchanges and other forms of cooperation and finally to bring about peaceful unification. That was the signal of a new age of peace, reconciliation and cooperation on the Korean Peninsula that until then had remained the only remnant of the Cold War.

After the summit tensions between the two sides diminished substantially and many positive changes have been occurring. Exchanges and cooperation have been increasing steadily. Only four days after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States last year that engulfed the world in a threat of imminent war, the two Koreas were able to hold inter-Korea Ministerial Talks and reaffirm their determination to make peace and cooperate with each other.

At the moment, however, relations are experiencing temporary stagnation. As we saw in the German experience in the past, we expect that the inter-Korea relationship will repeatedly stop and go. Notwithstanding, the Korean people and I will keep on working with patience, fortitude, and resilience. Inspired by international concern, our Sunshine Policy will succeed in the end.

The 11 September terrorist attacks, which took place in the first year of the 21st century, brought enormous shock and pain to humanity. The incident has fundamentally changed the traditional concept of war. Terrorism is waged without warning and without faces. It kills innocent civilians indiscriminately. No country or person is free from the menace of terrorism. If it is not eradicated, international order will break down, economies will fail and the lives of individuals will be ruined.

We have to get rid of this crime against humanity and world peace. All the nations of the world must put their heads together and come up with measures to stop terrorism once and for all.

The 21st century is the age of information and globalisation. The information revolution offers an opportunity to build a knowledge-based economy, in which wealth is created through the utilisation of information and knowledge. As an immeasurable amount of information is being communicated freely without time or space limitations, the pace of globalisation is further accelerating.

In this process, though, one problem has developed: that the fruit of this enterprise has failed to be distributed fairly. As a result of the fact that some advanced countries are reaping the bulk of the benefits from information industries, the so-called digital divide among nations and individuals is becoming wider and wider. It should not be overlooked that behind cultural, religious and racial extremism and terrorism are sinister plots to take advantage of the income gaps.

We have witnessed protest rallies by various non-governmental organisations and heard their indignation on the widening economic disparities and other inequalities. We cannot keep asking for their patience.

The harvest gathered by the information revolution and globalisation should be shared among all people. Without mending this cleavage between the rich and poor, world peace cannot be guaranteed in the 21st century. The nations of the world are to tackle this problem more seriously.

We must work to turn the 21st century into one in which human rights and democracy blossom in every corner of the globe. Let us turn it into an age of peace, free from war and terrorism. Let us build a new century in which humanity will be able to solve the problems of radical income differences and share hope and prosperity together. This is the historical mission thrust on us all who are living this new age.

This mission can only be accomplished when we engage in dialogue and cooperation. Where there is dialogue, there is understanding. Where there is understanding, there is cooperation.