Kim DJ

Korea Policy Review – Harvard University

Inaugural Edition – 2005

Young Leadership and East Asia


Kim Dae-jung (김대중)

Former President of the Republic of Korea


The year 2005 will be a vital year for East Asia. First, this year will be a crucial year in reaching a resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, a key indicator for peace in the region. Second, negotiations for establishment of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) among the three East Asian nations of South Korea, China, and Japan, as well as with the Southeast Asian nations, will go into full swing. This will create a sound basis to give birth to an East Asian community. Third, along with such developments, the first-ever East Asia Summit will be held in Malaysia this December.

First of all, the North Korean nuclear issue is the most urgent task to be addressed in Northeast Asia. The outcome of this issue will determine whether Northeast Asia will have peace or disaster in its future. We are adamantly opposed to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons clearly goes against the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula made by both Koreas.

In this respect, the six-party talks currently underway must succeed. However, whether within the framework of the six-party talks or through direct bilateral talks, the issue needs to be resolved between the United States and North Korea. North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons program and accept thorough inspections. The United States must guarantee the security of North Korea and lift economic sanctions. Only when such a give-and-take deal is made can the North Korean nuclear issue be resolved.

At the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in June 2000, I said to Chairman Kim Jong Il, “What North Korea currently needs most is security guarantees and economic recovery. The only country in the world that can provide these two is the United States. Therefore, North Korea must improve its relations with the United States if only for its survival. For this, North Korea must give up its weapons of mass destruction. If you wish, I will deliver your position to the United States.” With Chairman Kim’s consent, I called President Clinton and told him of North Korea’s position upon my return to Seoul. As a result, Vice Chairman Cho Myung Rok, the then de facto second in command in North Korea, visited the United States and met with President Clinton, and Secretary of State Albright visited North Korea and met with Chairman Kim. Both countries agreed on normalizing bilateral relations and also agreed to fully close an agreement on the missile issue when President Clinton was to visit North Korea soon after.

President Clinton, however, was nearing the end of his term and focused on the situation in the Middle East. And there was a change of political power in the United States before Clinton could make a visit to North Korea. The newly inaugurated Bush administration had a different position from that of the Clinton administration regarding policy toward North Korea. As a result, there was no further progress in U.S.–North Korean relations. The inter-Korean relations slipped into a stalemate, and the North Korean nuclear issue emerged, further aggravating the situation.

North Korea is in a desperate situation in terms of its economy, society, and foreign relations. I believe that once the relations with the United States improve, North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korea desires to become a second China. While maintaining its current political system, North Korea aims to pursue market economy with political stability and economic prosperity. Improving relations with the United States is imperative in realizing this. Without improving U.S.–North Korean relations, North Korea would not be able to borrow money from the IMF [International Monetary Fund] or the World Bank nor attract foreign investment. Also, North Korea will not be able to receive compensation from Japan for the past colonial rule. If the prospects for improving relations with the United States were better, I believe that North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons program.

However, there have been differences in opinion within the U.S. administration between those who support a peaceful resolution through dialogue with North Korea and those who push for a strong containment policy. Four years have passed without the United States clearly proposing what it will provide in return for North Korea’s giving up of its nuclear weapons program.

The “Government of the People” (Kim Dae-jung administration) and the current “Participatory Government” (Roh Moo Hyun administration) have consistently requested that the United States should make a give-and-take package deal by pursuing dialogue with North Korea. Through my experience during my presidency, I have no doubt that the North Korean nuclear issue can be resolved smoothly by North Korea completely giving up its nuclear weapons program and, simultaneously, the United States providing security guarantees and lifting economic sanctions from North Korea. I have conveyed such opinions to the United States and North Korea and also related countries such as China, Japan, and Russia.

The United States is an important ally to South Korea. We regard the United States as essential for our security, economic development, and further advancement in the international community. The ROK-U.S. alliance is a cooperation that is a win-win situation where both countries can benefit. We also fully support the U.S. policy opposing North Korea’s possession of a nuclear weapons program.

At the same time, we are demanding to the United States that our opinion should be respected when deciding the policies that address how the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved. That is because the Korean peninsula is our homeland, and the life and the property of the Korean people depend on how the situation regarding the North Korean nuclear issue goes. As mentioned before, because we are confident that a peaceful give-and-take negotiation will resolve the issue, we are opposed to any kind of coercive measures or use of force. Rather, such stance will be detrimental to security and peace on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.

The United States should learn what history teaches us. Forty years of Cold War could not bring change to the Soviet Union. But success was finally reached through dialogue and the detente policy, which encouraged the Soviet Union toward openness and reform. It was a miraculous success, seeing a country that had once divided the world into two with the United States collapse by itself without any use of force from the outside. It was the same for the Eastern bloc and East Germany. The United States had been in a state of confrontation with China since the Korean War but could not bring change to China. However, President Nixon visited China and met with Chairman Mao Zedong, encouraging China to open up to the international community. Such led to the emergence of Deng Xiaoping on the scene later. Deng brought about tremendous changes in China, as we know today. The United States even went to war with Vietnam but lost. However, today, through diplomacy and trade, the United States has a good relationship with Vietnam.

The opposite example is Cuba. For the past fifty years the United States has pursued a containment policy toward Cuba, its small neighboring country, but has failed to bring change. What the United States can learn from such historical examples is quite clear. It is that communism becomes stronger through oppression and isolation, but changes voluntarily through dialogue and openness. I have conveyed such opinions to President Bush. Here, I would like to emphasize once more, the United States must learn from its own successes and failures in dealing with communism through history.

At a press conference following our summit meeting when he came to Seoul in February 2002, President Bush said, “President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but still pursued dialogue with the Soviet Union. I will pursue dialogue with North Korea. I will not attack North Korea and will provide food assistance to North Korea.” I thought that Bush made a very wise judgment. However, there was not as much progress as expected since then. Now, as the Bush administration starts on a second term, I dearly hope that the United States makes a bold decision to strike a give-and-take deal with North Korea through peaceful negotiations and close cooperation with the members of the six-party talks, especially with South Korea, to bring peace on the Korean peninsula this year.

Next, I would like to discuss the historic task of East Asia. The twenty-first century has seen the development of both globalization and regionalization. NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) led by the United States has actively played its role for regional cooperation in the American continent. The European Union, or EU, the largest regional community in history, shows remarkable development in Europe. Now, in East Asia, there is a rising tide of support to establish a regional community within the region. The East Asia Summit (EAS) will be held for the first time in Malaysia the coming winter. There will be political discussions to establish such a community in East Asia. This will become a truly historic moment for the region.

When attending the ASEAN+3 Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1998 during my presidency, I emphasized the need for the East Asia Summit and proposed the establishment of an East Asian Vision Group (EAVG) to reach this goal, which was soon adopted. Through discussions among the countries in East Asia, the East Asia Forum (EAF) was held in Seoul and Malaysia in 2003 and 2004, respectively. I attended both meetings to give keynote speeches.

East Asia is a region with ripe conditions to establish a regional community, similar to the NAFTA and EU in its significance. The trade volume among the East Asian countries takes up 52 percent of the total trade volume of East Asia. The NAFTA is 46 percent, and the EU, 62 percent. The Republic of Korea, China, and Japan take up an overwhelming portion of the trade volume in East Asia, and the population of these countries also takes up a large portion of the total. The three countries of ROK, China, and Japan should act as leaders or partners to establish the East Asian community through close cooperation with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

The twenty-first century is said to be the “Age of Asia.” Many scholars predict such an outcome. The National Intelligence Council (NIC), a cooperative body of U.S. intelligence agencies, recently forecast that thetwenty-first century will indeed be an age of Asia, led by China and India.

In fact, Asia being at the center of the world economy is nothing new. China had maintained its position as having the highest level of GDP in the world from the Tang Dynasty in the seventh century up to when it lost in the Opium War in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1842, China took up 27 percent of world GDP, and India took up 14 percent. At that time, the GDP of the United Kingdom was only 5 percent of world GDP. It has only been about 150 years since the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States became the leading countries in the world. Now, another era of Asia might come. Yes, I believe that such a time will come.

East Asian countries have many varieties and differences in political system, economy, culture, and religion. Despite such differences, the nations of East Asia currently enjoy stability and cooperation. East Asia also closely cooperates with countries in the Asia-Pacific—including the United States—and countries in Europe in many areas of politics, economy, and foreign affairs through the ASEAN+3, APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), and the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum).

Despite such positive developments, East Asia still has a long way to go before forming a regional community, for there is a lack of enthusiasm and vision to form such a community among the leaders of East Asia. The success of the EU was made possible by the endless efforts of dedicated leaders with vision and insight, like those who endeavored toward the 1950 Shuman-Adenauer Declaration. The two combined factors—the support of the people and the leadership of the excellent leaders—enabled the miraculous success of the EU.

The people of East Asia dearly hope that the day will come when Asia regains its past-time glory. If the leaders of East Asia work together with a strong sense of commitment in the coming summit meeting in Malaysia, the regional community of East Asia could be successfully established for sure. It is an inevitable development in the course of history, an aspiration of the people, and of mutual benefit to all countries in the region.

Such efforts for a regional community could be expanded later to South Asia, including India. Young leaders should have special interest and provide cooperation in the process of establishing an East Asian community. East Asia with a strong regional community will bear fruits of remarkable dreams and hope for the future.

Lastly, I will touch upon the issue of leadership. The success of an era or the development of a country is influenced by certain factors, such as the inevitability of history or the aspirations of the people. But another important factor is the advent of a prominent leader.

Without Caesar or Augustus, the great Roman Empire would not have been so successfully established, nor would it have enjoyed the glory of a peaceful Pax Romana. Without Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, or Han Gao Zhu, the Founding Emperor of the Han Dynasty, it would have been unthinkable for China to be rid of the feudal system two thousand years before the Western society and establish a centralized bureaucracy similar to that of the modern society. Without the belief and sacrifice of Lincoln, who emphasized tolerance, it would have been difficult to prevent the United States from being split into two different countries. Without Churchill, there would have been much more sacrifice and bloodshed to triumph over Hitler and to save the United Kingdom and Europe. As such, no democratic state can succeed without a prominent leader who shapes the aspirations of the people into sound policies and takes the reins to lead the people. This is a fact that can be applied to all organizations, whether it is a corporation or government agency.

Then, what virtues should such a successful leader have? I think that a leader should have an intelligent awareness of an issue, such as that of a scholar, and a realistic sense of things, such as that of a merchant. The leader needs to preserve his or her philosophy and ideals and also attempt to overcome the obstacles step by step through sharp and accurate thinking. In other words, an astute leader must pursue the idea of Silsagusi, meaning “seeking truth in action.”

Putting too much weight on ideals could lead to an outcome quite far from reality, and too much weight on reality could lead to a road of corruption and failure. Scholar-like awareness of an issue and merchant-like sense of reality are essential virtues, like the two sides of a coin.

The twenty-first century is an age of knowledge-based economy. Mankind has experienced five phases of revolutions since the beginning of history. The first revolution was the birth of mankind four million years ago; the second was the start of an agricultural economy ten thousand years ago; the third was the establishment of city-states; and the fourth was the development of philosophy. And the most recent, the fifth revolution was the Industrial Revolution at the end of the nineteenth century.

Today, in the twenty-first century, the world is now witnessing a dawn of the sixth revolution, the revolution of a knowledge-based economy. Technological development is advancing by the day, and globalization is spreading. It is difficult to predict what the world will be like in five or ten years. It can perhaps be said to be the “Age of Change,” with the changes occurring faster than at any time in history.

In such an age, it is young leaders who have to accurately determine the course of history and participate to bring about good results. Young leaders must go out into the world and embrace the world in their arms as new intellectuals of the twenty-first century in this new age of knowledge, high technology, and globalization. The young leaders must compete with the world and, yet at the same time, cooperate with the world. An age of peace, prosperity, and cooperation must be realized. This is the privilege and, at the same time, the mission that young leaders hold.

There is also another point that young leaders must bear deep in mind. That is the issue of disease and poverty around the world. Among the world population of 6 billion, around 20 percent live on less than a dollar a day. In other words, more than 1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty, being threatened of their very survival. Around twenty million children under the age of five died in 2002, of which 98 percent came from the least developed countries. AIDS is prevalent in Africa, and malaria is taking the lives of innocent people. Poverty is widespread in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. People are crying out in anger and despair from poverty and disease in all parts of the globe.

Without resolving these dire issues, the world can never be safe. Peace will be but an empty echo. At the root of all terrorism lies the issue of poverty. People driven to despair and anger from poverty provide cooperation and participate in acts of terrorism. Unless the issue of poverty is resolved, no one in this world will be completely safe. There will be no peace, nor prosperity.

Young leaders, let us voice our opinions and provide our cooperation in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue. Let us lead the way to realize the establishment of the East Asian community so that we can bring about an age of Asia, where the two billion people of Asia can live in happiness with stability and mutual prosperity. Let us become leaders with scholar-like awareness and a merchant-like sense of reality and become new intellectuals that the new millennium requires to lead in poverty reduction and bring prosperity. History has bestowed you with a mission unprecedented in the history of mankind, with high expectations for your achievements.


This article has been modified by the author from his keynote speech at the Northeast Asian Network Forum and the Leadership Center at Yonsei University on February 2, 2005.


Kim Dae-jung was the president of the Republic of Korea, 1998–2003. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for a historic summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, and his life-long dedication to democracy and human rights, including years in prison and exile. His books include Prison Writings and Mass Participatory Economy: A Democratic Alternative for Korea.