UN chief Ban Ki-moon holds onto dream of united Korea
All the signs are that he will be disappointed, but Ban Ki-moon refuses to abandon hope that he will live to see peace prevail on the Korean peninsula.
At 68, the secretary general of the United Nations has lived through enough unexpected twists and turns of history to ensure he remains defiantly optimistic about the potential for positive change.
Cheery and charming, he gives the impression of being a glass half-full sort of person, even when it comes to the military-run Communist regime that retains an iron grip on power in the impoverished north of his divided homeland.
“I really want to contribute to the promotion of dialogue and the reduction of tension on the peninsula and to work for its eventual reunification,” Ban said in an interview during an official visit to Paris this week.
Asked if he believed he might see that happen in his lifetime, the former South Korean foreign minister responded with a broad smile and a wistful murmur.
“I hope so,” he said. “I hope so. The sooner the better.”
For millions of Ban’s compatriots, it has not been an encouraging week on that front.
Pyongyang’s claim that it had developed a missile capable of reaching the US mainland was, in the UN chief’s words, an “alarming” boast, albeit one that few regard as credible.
Like most analysts in South Korea, Ban believes the regime in Pyongyang is likely blustering in reaction to Seoul’s announcement on Sunday of a new accord with the United States to almost triple the range of its missiles to 800 kilometres.
The deal will give the South the capacity to hit targets across the North, as well as bringing parts of Japan and China into reach.
Pyongyang’s bellicose response has dampened hopes that new leader Kim Jong-un might be inclined to seek reconciliation with the south, but Ban holds onto the hope that economic imperatives may yet push the son of the late Kim Jong-il in that direction.
“With the new leadership established in Pyongyang I sincerely hope they will come to the dialogue table,” he said.
“That is the best way to address their own economic difficulties.”
Prior to becoming UN secretary general in 2007, Ban promised to make a reduction of tension between the two Koreas one of the priorities for his first term of office.
He may have made little headway on that front but he is generally considered to have done a good job, a fact reflected in the lack of serious opposition to him being granted a second term.
A successful UN intervention in Ivory Coast and the cover the organisation provided for Nato to provide decisive military support for the uprising that toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya helped to enhance the South Korean’s reputation.
Life though has become much tougher at the outset of his second term with divisions in the Security Council effectively rendering the UN incapable of stemming the bloodshed in Syria, where fighting between regime forces and rebels have left 20,000 dead in less than two years.
With neither carrot nor stick to back up his words, it has fallen to Ban to articulate the world’s outrage at the carnage – an unenviable task but one that he has stuck to doggedly, repeatedly urging President Bashar al-Assad to unilaterally call an end to the fighting.
“That is the only way at this time to break this cycle of violence,” Ban reasons.
“We cannot think about an agreed ceasefire as the Syrian authorities insist.
“Since they are the government and the disproportionately greater power, it is they that must stop this violence and then I’m sure the international community and key countries together with the UN will be able to mobilise and co-ordinate with the opposition forces to agree to this ceasefire.”
Ban is also grappling with the tricky issue of what to do about Mali, where Islamist extremists now control half the territory.
France, the former colonial power, is leading a push for a military intervention for which the troops would be provided by neighbouring west African states.
The proposed intervention has been under discussion for months but, for one reason or another, little headway seems to be made and Ban makes it clear he harbours doubts about whether a military operation aimed at “eradicating terrorism” is the most appropriate response to the region’s myriad problems.
“My position as secretary general is that before any military operation takes place there should be political negotiations and dialogue,” he said.
“In the northern part of Mali the situation is very difficult. Most areas are now occupied by extreme Islamists who impose sharia rule and there are many armed groups. It is a very worrisome situation but we have to address all these issues in a coherent and comprehensive manner.
“There needs to be very clear and concrete plans. What will be the impact in the region if and when they deploy military forces there?”