Opening Remarks at the JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum 2018: Striving for Peace
October 23, 2018
Chairman Hong Seok-Hyun
Chairman, JoongAng Holdings and the Korea Peace Foundation
The CSIS Korea Chair will be featuring a series of Korea Platforms with remarks from the distinguished speakers at the eighth annual JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum that was held in Seoul, Korea on October 22, 2018. The first in the series is the opening remarks by Chairman Hong Seok-Hyun, chairman of JoongAng Holdings and the Korea Peace Foundation.
Thank you for coming to the eighth JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum. It is wonderful to see so many of you here this morning.
Friends, esteemed colleagues, and distinguished guests, allow me to start off with a question which is, how will historians in the future define the Korean peninsula of 2018? Will it go down in history as the year marking a great turning point towards peace for the Korean peninsula, Northeast Asia, and the world? Or will it be remembered as a year of dismal failure? Just like all of you, I am keen to see where things go from here.
At least up to this point, I believe we are in a time filled with hope for peace and not the specter of war. For the first time in history, after seven decades of hostile relations, the leaders of the United States and North Korea sat down face-to-face in Singapore on June 12. Following that, President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un met for their third summit, this time in Pyongyang, and visited Mount Baekdu, smiling and clasping their hands together.
Professor Paul David and Brian Arthur of Stanford University said social phenomena follow a path dependence. Path dependence refers to the tendency of not being able to deviate from a certain path once a dependence develops, even when that path is revealed to be inefficient. I believe it is time for us to break from the path dependence of North Korean denuclearization and peace on Korean peninsula so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
That is why for this year’s JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum, we are going to address the issue of peace and prosperity along with the issue of denuclearization. It is an expression of our strong desire to prevent the tragedy of war through economic development and to achieve denuclearization and peace. As I say this, I recall Nelson Mandela’s magnanimous yet firm expression as he said, and I quote, “Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.”
Ladies and gentlemen, despite recent developments, there is no denying that North Korea’s actions are somewhat lacking and disappointing. Looking at the results of the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit, President Trump seems to have made many concessions. Denuclearization, which should have had top priority, was announced as the third part, while CVID or complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement was left out altogether. And since then, the international community has not seen convincing actions by North Korea towards denuclearization. And so, we have heard voices raised in Seoul and Washington questioning North Korea’s sincerity.
The summit between President Moon and Chairman Kim held in Pyongyang on September 19 when pessimism was running high, was like much-needed rain after a drought. First of all, there were more detailed discussions regarding denuclearization than during the first Moon-Kim summit held on April 27, and the leaders were able to reach a more advanced agreement. Second, it reignited deadlocked talks for another summit between the United States and North Korea. In the face of various obstacles, President Moon tried his utmost, and Chairman Kim responded in kind.
Now, we must build momentum for the second summit between the American and North Korean heads of state. The key to that summit are the meetings between Secretary Mike Pompeo and Workers’ Party Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol, as well as talks between Special Representative Stephen Biegun and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. Negotiators must take heed of the lessons learned from the Singapore summit in order to draw out detailed actions from North Korea.
Considering the factors at play now, I believe Chairman Kim Jong-un must play a time game. He must produce tangible results while he has the trust and attention of the golden combination that is Presidents Moon and Trump. If he misses this golden opportunity, I believe he will end up with the greatest regret.
It is time for Chairman Kim to back up his words with actions. It is time that we saw clear actions such as North Korea giving up its inter-continental ballistic missiles or dismantling some of its nuclear weapons. That is the way to convince the international community of North Korea’s good intentions.
Kim Jong-un must not take the steps his father, Kim Jong-il, took. The late Kim Jong-il missed a chance of a lifetime 18 years ago. On October 9, 2000, the late Chairman Kim sent his number two man, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok of the National Defense Commission, to Washington, D.C. with an invitation for President Bill Clinton to visit Pyongyang. The problem was, this whole process of inviting the U.S. president got started too late. President Clinton’s term was drawing to an end. With the U.S. presidential election set for November 7, President Clinton was running out of time. Clinton threw himself into brokering peace between Israel and Palestine and the trip to Pyongyang was never realized. The State Department’s policy coordinator for North Korea, Wendy Sherman, has said with regret, that had Chairman Kim sent Jo even a month earlier, it would have changed the course of history. What is more regrettable is that after Chairman Kim’s invitation went unrealized, President Clinton’s invitation for Chairman Kim to visit Washington was also turned down. I hope Chairman Kim Jong-un will not miss his timing like his father, because he hesitated. Chairman Kim doesn’t have much time left now.
Chairman Kim Jong-un has many seasoned and capable aides around him. They are ready with their own meticulous and elaborate logic and strategy which has made it possible for Chairman Kim to claim a position of advantage. But the most important historical decisions can only be made by Chairman Kim himself. Only he alone can have the acumen of seeing beyond the logic presented by his aids, to break the path dependence of the past.
My dear friends, colleagues, and members of the audience, Chairman Kim is at an important crossroads, and one of the cards we can use to instill courage in him is to present a clear idea of the economic benefits of denuclearizing. More than 70 percent of North Korean citizens are earning money from markets all around the country, and over 70 percent of all household income is from these markets. Through these markets, North Korean citizens have opened their eyes to the idea of the individual. Chairman Kim may feel uneasy without a nuclear program, but if the economy fails, it will mean a certain end for him. Therefore, South Korea and the United States, along with the international community, should devise and present a plan for economic benefits and detailed ways to realize those benefits through North Korea’s denuclearization. The fate of the Korean peninsula lies in how South Korea and the United States reach common ground on the North Korean economy, which has become the fate of Chairman Kim himself.
Distinguished guests, we need to take note of an important point. The principal player in North Korea’s economic development is North Korea itself. The role of its leader Chairman Kim is crucial. South Korea and the United States are but sincere supporters. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank all have a great interest in North Korea, and in order for global private capital to enter North Korea, the country must join the international community. For this to happen, North Korea must fulfill the requirements set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Only then can it join the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.
I see great potential in the North Korean economy. When I visited Washington as President Moon’s special envoy last year, I met with then secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Rex, as you know, is from the corporate sector. What he said was that his friends in the corporate world were keen to explore and invest in North Korea. Another major investor, Jim Rogers, has also said that he would like to put all his money in North Korea. An exaggeration, I am sure, but it just goes to show the level of interest out there.
For global firms to invest in North Korea, Kim Jong-un must first make some bold decisions. If he does so, North Korea will be able to nurture the IT and eco-friendly automobile industries, which are strategic industries Chairman Kim would like to see [grow in] rapid progress.
Ladies and gentlemen, our forum today is to make sure we do not lose sight of hope but instead, strive to plan a brighter future. Sir Winston Churchill said, “A nation which has forgotten its past can have no future.” It is true. We must prepare for a better future through the lessons learned from our past failures. Fortunately, we have overcome the worst-case scenario of whether to go to war or not and have started talking about peace. The road to denuclearization and peace will be a rough and difficult process filled with danger and temptation. This is like the journey to Ithaca in Homer’s Odyssey. It could be a long and difficult road, and so I express my deepest appreciation to all of you this morning, for taking this time to bring your collective wisdom together. Thank you.
Hong Seok-Hyun is chairman of JoongAng Holdings. He is also the chairman of the Korea Peace Foundation and is the former CEO of the JoongAng Media Network. Chairman Hong assumed that position after he finished serving as the Republic of Korea ambassador to the United States in 2005. Chairman Hong received his B.A. in electronics engineering from Seoul National University and earned a Master’s in industrial engineering and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.