On his first visit to the Republic of Korea since becoming United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon today called on his fellow countrymen to play a larger role in addressing pressing global challenges such as climate change, rising food and energy prices and terrorism.
Addressing students and faculty at his alma mater Seoul National University, where he received an honorary doctorate today, Mr. Ban set out what he said would be the central message of his visit – that the Republic of Korea has more to contribute to the world.
He recalled his childhood of war, poverty and famine, and the amazing transformation of the country which was unimaginable when he was a young boy.
“No country has worked harder for or benefited more from change than the Republic of Korea. Now it is our duty to help others follow our path to prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights,” Mr. Ban told those gathered in an overflowing auditorium.
“By serving others, we serve ourselves, as Korea’s future is tied to the world’s future. Our fates are inseparable. We Koreans can, and must, play a larger role in addressing the pressing challenges on the global agenda,” he added.
He told the future leaders that “the ties that bind our common humanity together are fraying,” and are being severely tested by four challenges – uncontrolled climate change; food, water and energy shortages; the struggle for human rights; and security threats, including weapons proliferation, organized crime and terrorism.
“We cannot let these threats define our future, shape our lives, or compromise our values,” he stated. “We must prevail, even as we preserve our laws, our principles, and our respect for diversity and for other cultures and religions.”
Mr. Ban arrived in Seoul from China, which was the second stop on a three-nation tour that also took him to Japan. He was welcomed home with a 21-gun salute and marching band and was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo and other officials.
On his first day in Seoul, the Secretary-General also met a group of Korean peacekeepers who are about to join the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. He told the soldiers that during the Korean War, the country received help from the UN and the international community, and it is time for the Koreans to give back.
Mr. Ban also met Yi So-yeon, the female Korean astronaut who recently carried the UN flag into outer space. She presented him with that flag as well as photos from her trip. The Secretary-General praised the important role that women are playing in all fields of work in the Republic of Korea and throughout the world.
He then met with UN staff, noting the sacrifices they make to serve the international community, and addressed the UN Association of the Republic of Korea.
Following his visit to his home country, Mr. Ban will return to Japan next week to attend the Group of Eight (G-8) summit of industrialized nations in Hokkaido.
Later next week, the Secretary-General will be travelling to France, at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy, to participate in the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean which will take place on 13 July.
While in Paris, Mr. Ban will also attend the French National Day Military Parade on 14 July, which will for the first time include UN peacekeepers from different parts of the world.
The Secretary-General then heads to Germany for a two-day visit beginning on 15 July, during which he will meet the Chancellor, the Foreign Minister and other officials in Berlin.
He will also address a conference organised by the Bertelsmann Foundation, as well as meet with UN staff in Bonn, before returning to New York.