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J. de Venecia: Address to International Leadership Conference 2018

Address to International Leadership Conference 2018, Seoul, Korea, February 18-22, 2018

Excellencies, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to welcome you all to this UPF International Leadership Conference 2018.

I thank the Universal Peace Federation (UPF); its founders, the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon; and its president, Dr. Thomas Walsh.

Extraordinary Moment: North and South Korean Athletes Walk Side by Side Under “Unification” Flag 

Excellencies, friends: At the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics several days ago, North and South Korean athletes marched together behind a blue-and-white “unification” flag for the first time in more than a decade.

It was an emotionally charged historic moment that sent a powerful signal that peace, although it may be difficult, elusive and distant, is not impossible to achieve.

We, in the UPF and the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), applaud Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-un for sending a high-level delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Pyeongchang Olympics, and for perhaps, creating the beginnings of the Seoul-Pyongyang informal or formal talks.

These laudable gestures have raised hopes for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

We equally commend South Korean President Moon Jae-in for his vision, leadership and initiative in carving out a new path to signal better relations between the two Koreas.

We hope that the North and South Korea display of unity at the Pyeongchang Olympics will be built upon and serve as a harbinger of a new chapter in political and economic engagement between the two Koreas, and, to quote President Moon Jae-in, “a precious starting point for a step toward world peace.”

Transfer of ICAPP Secretariat from Manila to Seoul

In 2006, as my small, humble contribution to help encourage direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, I transferred from Manila to Seoul the Secretariat of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which I founded and established in Manila in September 2000 and of which I have been chairman of its Standing Committee up to now. The ICAPP Secretariat is now most active in Seoul and headed by Secretary General Park Ro-byug, an experienced South Korean diplomat, and by my co-chairman, now, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong.

I am proud to inform you that since the founding of ICAPP in Manila in 2000, today, it counts some 350 ruling, opposition and independent parties from 52 countries in Asia, as well as the Korean Workers’ Party of North Korea, as members.

Ideological Differences Shouldn’t Get in the Way

Excellencies, friends: In Northeast Asia today, we need to develop pragmatic and creative methods that will try to rebuild North-South relations on the Korean Peninsula—without hopefully allowing too many ideological differences to get in the way.

My interest in such an outcome is personal as well as professional—because my earliest voluntary assignments in Philippine foreign policy involved North Korea. In 1990, I was then acting chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations and visited Pyongyang in an informal pioneering effort to try to open Philippine diplomatic relations with North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). And, to try to discourage it from giving material and moral support to guerrillas of the Communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines.

This was at a time when Pyongyang was also trying to broaden its East Asian friendships. I met with the North Korean leader, president Kim Il-sung, at his mountain villa north of Pyongyang. I was accompanied then by Filipino Congressman Miguel Romero, now deceased; Philippine business leader Len Oreta, who is married to the younger sister of the late Senator Benigno Aquino, Senator Teresa Aquino-Oreta; and civic and education leader Nestor Kalaw.

Despite his forbidding reputation, I found the legendary Kim Il-sung widely and keenly interested in the outside world; our appointment of 10 minutes stretched to more than one hour as he and I exchanged views on many issues. I was later informed that he rarely entertains visitors for a long period.

When I inquired into the possibility of another war on the Korean Peninsula, he dismissed the risk outright. Conflict would be foolish, he said emphatically; it would only cause “mutual destruction” in both North and South Korea, which neither side could afford to suffer. He told me, in no uncertain terms: “If we attack the South, the South will be destroyed. But we in the North will also be destroyed.”

Thus, today, when Pyongyang, with its leader Kim Jong-un, his grandson, rattles the sounds of war on the Korean Peninsula, as it did during Kim Jong-il’s leadership, I remember those words of practical wisdom from the late Kim Il-sung.

Most importantly, at the same time, in response to my request and appeal, Kim Il-sung did me and my colleagues honor, promising, and later putting in writing, that North Korea would not give aid and comfort to Filipino NPA guerrillas—who had, by then, been fighting to overthrow the Philippine state for more than two decades. President Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, told me that by the time we leave for Beijing en route to Manila, the North Korean government would have the letter ready. And he kept his promise.

Philippines-North Korea Diplomatic Relations 

A few weeks after I left Pyongyang, on my invitation, President Kim Il-sung sent to Manila his Deputy Premier Kim Dahl Hyun to finalize the agreement with our then Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, which expeditiously resulted in diplomatic relations between Manila and Pyongyang. 

That was the most successful result of our trip to North Korea. 

Today, the North Korean ambassador in Bangkok is accredited to Manila, presents his credentials to the Philippine president in Manila, and visits Manila from time to time. Similarly, the Philippine ambassador in Beijing is accredited to Pyongyang.

I had turned over the priceless North Korean document—signed by North Korean Deputy Premier Kim Dahl Hyun committing the North Korean government not to give aid and comfort to the insurgent Philippine New People’s Army—to then President Corazon Aquino, the beloved late president of the Philippines. I specifically asked for this document from the President of North Korea (DPRK), and he authorized Deputy Premier Kim to sign it and hand it to me. I proudly presented the document to then President Cory Aquino in Malacanang Palace, when we returned to Manila.

Yes, that agreement we forged in Pyongyang in the summer of 1990 has kept our two states friendly and cooperative until now. 

I must say that I have since developed close relations with the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army and the National Democratic Front) leaders: Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, my high school classmate at De La Salle Luis Jalandoni, and who was then the CPP-NPA-NDF chief negotiator with the Philippine government on the peace talks, and who is now a senior adviser, and with Fidel Agcaoile, their new chief negotiator. And, have helped push, over the years, a final peace agreement with our Communist brothers at home that will hopefully succeed sooner than later.

Two Koreas Should Adapt to Global Changes

Excellencies, friends: We must point out that despite the occasional harsh rhetoric on both sides of the 38thParallel, I believe governments, parliaments, political parties, civil society organizations and religious groups must encourage and support direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang. 

As we know, direct talks re-started some years ago between Washington and Pyongyang—and years before that, in New York and Geneva—but had not met with success.

Indeed, direct talks between the North and South will complement these high-level explorations. Perhaps they could even catalyze the long-suspended Six-Party Talks to prevent nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps direct bilateral or multilateral talks could even lead to agreement on a road map to eventual unification. But these talks have not reopened in a long time now.

Today, the basic fact is that the distribution of power in the world is fast-changing—particularly in East Asia—and the Korean Peninsula must adapt to these epochal transformations. 

Vietnam itself emerged from three difficult successive wars, winning against great powers, and its socialist government, adopting a market economy, lifted its people from poverty, to become today a rising peaceful economic power in Southeast Asia. North Korea can be like Vietnam. 

The great example, of course, is how the two Germanys finally emerged from Cold War confrontation and totally united under then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to become today the predominant economic power in Europe.

And China, under the unforgettable leader Deng Xiaoping, opened to the world, lifting more than 500 million people from poverty. And, appreciable elements of free enterprise capitalism were introduced to the country’s socialist economy, which has propelled China to become the second largest economy in the world, and perhaps, within 10 years, the number one economy.

ASEAN Plus 4

Perhaps the two Koreas should begin with some degree of economic cooperation. The obvious way, which should not take too much time for Pyongyang, is for it to be invited to associate itself with the East Asian economic grouping of the 10 Southeast Asian states and the three Northeast Asian states—China, Japan and South Korea. The ASEAN Plus Three (ASEAN+3) could become ASEAN Plus Four. This should not be a long process and the idea should be shared with Pyongyang sooner than later. 

Yes, indeed, North Korea should not be left alone and isolated as we push for political and economic integration in Asia.

In my view, the immediate task of the parliaments and mainstream political parties of the Republic of Korea and the North, aided by the parliaments, political parties, and business leaders of the international community, as well as global civil society, is to draw up a clear, distinct and workable road map toward unification. 

Political parties and civil society organizations should network with the leading think-tanks in Asia, the U.S. and Europe to envision the architecture of Korean confederation and unification; actively revive Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy”; promote a bipartisan approach among the major parties of the South; and draw on South Korea’s vaunted economic power to help build the economy of the North under an economic and political confederation of Korean unity.

The Asian, European, African, Latin American, Australian and U.S. parliaments could organize a program and send delegations to the North Korea legislature. Their ministers of agriculture and tourism could interact with their North Korean counterparts to look into the recurring causes of famine in the North and to develop tourism there that can create jobs and generate foreign exchange earnings. 

The Chinese, Russian and Western industries can look into North Korea’s hydrocarbons, mining and hydro-electric potential. 

Over the years, the late Rev. Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon have built genuine goodwill with Pyongyang and among the Koreans in the North, and donated their much-appreciated hotel and erstwhile automobile factory that they established there to the North Korean government and people.

Revival of Six-Party Talks and Korean Unification

We believe that the lingering conflict and potentially dangerous flashpoint on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea, which is now nuclear-armed and continuously testing improved nuclear weaponry—and perhaps is even developing the potential to launch missiles from submarines—could be resolved peacefully through diplomacy, cooperation and bilateral and/or multilateral dialogue. This must be constantly tried and pursued, no matter how difficult it might be to do, so that we claim its eventual success, for the sake of the two Koreas, Asia and the world.

We urge the revival of the long-postponed Six-Party Talks among the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea, and even better, sustained direct talks between North and South that would directly contribute to enhancing political stability and security, not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in the Asia-Pacific region. Most importantly, this could lead to unite the two Koreas; forswear war; and build a strong, united prosperous first-world nation for the Korean peoples in the second or third decade of the 21stcentury. 

Perhaps, the successful dynamics of North Korea’s nuclear development could be channeled to mobilize the economy.

And the Six-Party Talks could have a business-focused auxiliary to develop economic joint-ventures for deployment in North Korea.

The Challenges and Opportunities of the Future 

In a speech former South Korean President Park Geun-hye gave in the former East German city of Dresden in 2014, she said: “Just as the German people secured freedom, prosperity and peace by tearing down the Berlin Wall, we too must tear down barriers in our march towards a new future on the Korean Peninsula.”      

Dear friends: We agree that for our peoples, the age of ideological conflict is over. All countries now need to move beyond containment and confrontation, and towards cooperation and collective prosperity. Indeed, there is no other option.

Institutionalizing the Interfaith Dialogue

Excellencies, friends: We, in the UPF, campaigned in 2004, in the U.N. General Assembly, in the U.N. Security Council, in the halls of the U.N. in Europe, for interfaith, intercultural and inter civilizational dialogue, proposing the creation of an Interfaith Council in the U.N., or at least a focal point in the Office of the U.N. Secretary General, at a time when discussion of religion was somewhat taboo within the U.N. system.

If creating a new council is overly difficult—as some legalists have warned—then, perhaps, we could write an interfaith mandate in the mission order of the Trusteeship Council of the U.N. which has anyway run out of trust territories to supervise. We had partially succeeded: today there is an interfaith unit operating in the Office of the U.N. Secretary General.

Since then, not only have the United Nations and individual governments been holding these important dialogues on the local, national, regional and international levels, but also civil society groups.

Excellencies, friends: From these interfaith dialogues, we should expect no miracles—except those epiphanies that result from open hearts, the willingness to see the other side’s viewpoint and a multitude of patience.

Sunni-Shiite Dialogue

On the raging Sunni-Shiite issues and the extremist violence in the Arab world, and the emergence of ISIS-ISIL in the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq and even Libya, one cannot discount the magnitude of the barriers that intense doctrinal separation has raised between the two great schools of Islam, and the emergence, today, of the radical, violent Islamic extremists, ISIS-ISIL.

As we advocated before in our letters to Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah and Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it would be of great relief to our region and indeed the world, if the two leaders of Islam, representing the Sunnis and Shiites, respectively, of the Muslim world, could perhaps meet in Mecca and Medina and bring about the beginnings of reconciliation and the end of violence in the lands of Islam, and head off decisively the expansion and internationalization of the extremist groups, ISIS-ISIL. We believe this initiative is most difficult but not impossible.

While the bloody Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Europe that ran for centuries have long since ended, politico-religious Catholic-Protestant wars emerged in Northern Ireland that lasted decades, until the relatively recent Good Friday peace agreement was reached.

In Pursuit of Lasting Peace 

Today, we sadly note the most discouraging ongoing multiple crises in our region: the extremist violence and wars in Iraq and Syria, although we have seen improvement recently, and new hostilities in Libya; the continuing violence in Afghanistan; the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the unending Azerbaijan and Armenia conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus; the continuing dangers and fear of explosion on the Korean Peninsula; the Buddhist and Muslim Rohingya difficulties in Myanmar, and similar problems in southern Thailand; the maritime tensions in the South China Sea and East China Sea; the Muslim and Communist insurgencies in the Philippines; and the other conflict areas in our region.

While we are deeply aware of the historical and cultural roots of many of those conflicts—and the enmity and bitter divisions that have grown between rivals—we cannot turn away from the pursuit of peace because the alternative, which is conflict and war, would be immeasurably costly and make all of us losers.

Understanding Among the Great Civilizations

On our part, we must strive relentlessly to achieve the multicultural understanding which is the only basis for the long-term security of our Asian region and the global community.

Understanding among the great civilizations is the only basis for global peace that will endure.

Indeed, to this purpose we must mobilize mosques, churches, temples, synagogues—Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians and Jews, no less than Christians and Muslims—as well as political parties and the whole of global civil society.

And if there are historical grudges that remain, let us bring them out into the open, indeed, into the blazing searchlight of public scrutiny, if you will—so that they may be threshed out by dialogue, reason and compromise.

We Must Create Space for Alternative Faiths

A great Western president once said that the 21stcentury will be defined by a simple choice that nations must make—whether to emphasize their ethnic, ideological and religious differences or their common humanity.

But nations can never make the right choice, as long as their peoples insist that “our faith must reign supreme”—a claim that can be affirmed only by the negation of all other faiths.

We, in the UPF, and in international organizations represented at our conference, must learn to create space for other systems and alternative faiths.

After all, every great religion arose from the same wellspring of faith—accepting, as its central belief, God’s direct and decisive intervention in human history.

Lastly, we must all accept that peace is much more than the absence of conflict. 

Excellencies, friends: Perhaps the time has now come for the president of South Korea to cross the 38thParallel and journey to Pyongyang. Similarly, the leader of North Korea should take a glorious visit to Seoul—something the leaders of the two Koreas have not done before.

Today, here in Seoul, we must take to heart the simple truth that peace indeed is a community of sharing; that we all belong to “one great human family under God.”


To go to the International Leadership Conference Schedule 2018, click here.