December 2022
27 28 29 30 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31


M. Sirisena: Address to World Summit 2022, Session VII

Address to World Summit
February 11-13, 2022


Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be here at this Summit and to deliver a keynote address. Thank you. When a South Korean invite is mentioned, beyond the invitation, Sri Lankans reminisce about the long-standing friendship between our two countries. As a sibling, South Korea has treated us especially well in the fields of economic assistance, investments, technology, employment, youth affairs and international transactions. At the outset, I mention them with great happiness and gratitude.

To start, let me, with deep respect, recognize the hosts—H.E. Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general, whom I have personally known well since 2015; Cambodian Prime Minister H.E. Samdech Hun Sen; Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, chairman of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF); and Dr. Yun Young-ho, director general of UPF.

Secondly, as a lover of peace, I recognize the Summit’s pious objective of universal concern, which is, “Peace on the Korean Peninsula.” 

Thirdly, I respectfully recognize the intended outcome of the Summit, which in simple terms is to bring together collective experiences, wisdom and insights critically required to build mutual understanding, sustainable peace and prosperity to the world.

In addition, I recognize the setting of the Summit in Seoul. In addition to the beauty of Seoul, this setting represents the historical importance of reunification of North and South Korea. There is a long history of efforts to unify the two divided geographical units, created by internal and external causes. This status has created economic downturns and suffering, especially in the North, though revival has occurred voluminously in the South.

This had been the case in some other divided countries too. Unified states have triumphed. The German experience is a good example of the collapse of a wall that divided people, followed by the building of a strong economy. Vietnam exhibited another novel political institutional arrangement and now has a bubbling economy. These two countries achieved unification in these two ways.

I quote Kohler, a commentator who stated four takeaways from the German experience of reunification. They were: First, get ahead of developments, prepare to expect the improbable and have the guts to lead; second, keep your promises and make sure others are aware of them; third, foreign policy begins at home; and, finally, do not go it alone. I hope those who are seeking reunification note these lessons.

Due to potential political and economic challenges, certain populations sometimes resist reunification. It typically happens in the sector or unit where economic status is affluent. Studies have proven this even in the case of the two Koreas. Migration after reunification could negatively affect the lives of the affluent. However, economic affluence is also predicted due to reunification. As such, some argue that other factors such as shared history, culture, language, traditions, et cetera, should motivate reunification.

The historical parameters of the two Koreas are complex, though well-known to this noble audience. I may approach the issue from our experiences in Sri Lanka, less known to many over here; it is because the Summit expects sharing collective experiences, wisdom and insights.

Our ethnic communities were united for generations throughout the history of Sri Lanka. Though there were aberrations in relationships, total segregation was prevented, and people remained as friends based upon culture, religion, traditions and beliefs. When foreign powers were ruling Ceylon, which is now known as Sri Lanka, especially towards the mid-twentieth century, our leaders fought unitedly for independence from the British, irrespective of the languages they spoke, religions they professed or ethnic groups they belonged to.

However, due to several domestic reasons—sometimes fueled by foreign influences who wished to divide and rule—hatred, jealousy and animosity developed, and unity was compromised and jeopardized. This led to political conflicts that were later converted to violence against the state, and to open violence in the streets, cities, villages and jungles. Though we are a small island of 65,000 square kilometers, the demand by an ethnic terrorist group was for a separate state. Arrangements were made by our governments several times to settle this issue, and Norway even brokered a ceasefire in 2002. But everything ultimately failed. This is another lesson we can share on failures one could experience on the way to peace or reunification.

This type of failure is observed even in the Korean environment. I may quote a commonly known episode to prove this stance. The spring and summer of 2018 saw an extraordinary rapprochement between the two Koreas. It led to successive face-to-face meetings. They culminated with a visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang. This visit followed several joint declarations, agreements, hotlines and other confidence-building measures, including an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, close to the demilitarized zone. It was the first full-time communication channel and served as an “embassy” between the two sides, still at war. In June 2020, it was blasted by North Korea, which in turn resulted in blasting much of the progress made in two years. This is the complexity and unpredictability one experiences in reunification or peacebuilding.

The terrorists in Sri Lanka did similar things to us, and, consequently, the peace processes we carried out failed. Instead of peacemaking, we battled it out. It is not a good lesson to learn, because war is the bitterest treatment of people. However, this is the way politics, war, egos and personalities sometimes react to certain peacebuilding and reunifying efforts.

H.E. Ban Ki-moon, as the secretary-general of the UN, did his utmost to bring peace, reconciliation and democratic control of the situation after the conflict was over in May 2009. I believe in peace and avoidance of war, and conflict should not be the answer to any aberrations. What we require at such a point is confidence-building between parties and rebuilding economies. Therefore, Sri Lanka stepped into reconciliation, basing our actions on the internationally acclaimed “four pillars of reconciliation.”

Of course, the international community anticipated and demanded extremely revolutionary and immediate remedial actions. They were lofty expectations, and unfortunately, the expected speed was not reflected in the execution of reconciliatory mechanisms. Ours was a conflict of more than 25 years. Korea has been divided for about 70 years. Reconciling competing interests and horrific pasts does not happen quickly, because scars are deep-rooted and thus adamancy rules. Egos prosper. Hence, patience is required, which reminds me of the statement made by the Japanese business tycoon Konosuke Matsushita: “Storms may pass, patience is a virtue.” Therefore, step-by-step movement may be preferred here too. What we need is not a step backward, but always a consistent step forward.

The economic impact on us was severe and we are still paying for such sectarian behavior. This, too, is not only a lesson for those of us in Sri Lanka. Many experiences are observed in proximity and far away too. United efforts always give better yields. Of course, the need may arise for people to sacrifice certain conveniences and comforts enjoyed before reunification or peacemaking, especially in socio-economic spheres. This was the German experience just after reunification, and it will happen elsewhere too.

However, governments, through bilateral and multilateral international cooperation, must find solutions to integrate, make peace, and unify quarreling groups, militaries and countries. It is because war and conflict do not have winners. There are no short or instant solutions. Ours is an excellent example. I have learned that there have been studies done even in Korea showing opposition to reunification. Though short-term difficulties could exist, one must look at the long-term effects.

Our conflict was over in May 2009. Still, 12 years later we have not found a firm power-sharing mechanism nor fulfilled total reconciliation as expected by international standards. The experiences in the unification of Germany and Vietnam show how two contrasting political ideologies could positively merge. It could happen even in Korea where the two political systems differ. Though conflicts may occur, one may reconsider the situation in light of common language, culture, traditions and living patterns, which can serve as the binding glue for sustainable integration.

Possession of resources and technology to manufacture long-range missiles and shoot them from deserts or submarines, et cetera, is insufficient for integration or reunification. Threatening nuclear attacks is also insufficient. What good do such missiles and nuclear armaments serve for people? Similarly, drawing a line at the 38th parallel is insufficient. Marking boundaries based on surveyors’ lines have not solved issues with our neighbors. This is seen today from the Radcliffe Line between India and Pakistan, and the line of chief British negotiator Sir Henry McMahon that deals with the boundaries of Tibet, China, Bhutan and even India. Conflicts have continued for decades on these boundary lines. Again, I say, it is not an easy task, especially when such threatening, warmongering hawks control decision-making.

I may quote the greatest Indian next to Lord Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Was not war itself a crime against God and humanity, and therefore, were not all those who sanctioned, engineered and conducted wars, war criminals?” We have the choice in front of us. Do we sanction, engineer and conduct wars and become war criminals, or do we go by Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”?

Let us swear that we will not be warmongers and war criminals but peacemakers, and that we will sacrifice in whatever way required because the effects will be universal and benefit humanity forever with bestowed peace. I sincerely wish that such a strong and willingly sacrificing group will also emerge from this Summit.

Thank you very much for listening to me patiently.



To go to the World Summit 2022 Schedule page, click here.