More than nine months have elapsed since Ban Ki-moon took office as Secretary General of the United Nations. Today, the soft-spoken, 63-year-old former top Korean diplomat looks much more confident in assuming his duties. In an exclusive interview at UN headquarters in New York, right after the conclusion of the general debate of this year's General Assembly, Ban talked with Beijing Review about UN reform, climate change, the Darfur situation, the six-party talks and China's role in world and UN affairs. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Beijing Review: What progress have you made in reforming the United Nations since you took office? Are you satisfied with it?
Ban Ki-moon: I have been in my office for only nine months. During the last nine months I think I have made significant reform measures. Some are successful but some are still ongoing. For example, I have successfully restructured the peacekeeping operation department and the disarmament sector. My next focus is on how to strengthen preventive diplomacy capacity as I have been doing in [dealing with] Myanmar and Darfur situations. I also have been trying my best to change the working culture of the United Nations so that we can make this organization more effective, more efficient, more functional and more professional. I think I have been making credible progress.
What is the most difficult?
This organization is six decades old. Old systems and traditions have been accumulated over the last six decades. It may take some time to change, to make this organization much more efficient. We need to convince each and every staff as well as member states, as it is an intergovernmental organization composed of 192 countries. Therefore, communicating and consulting with all those member states in carrying out the reform process is not an easy task. It involves time and energy. I'm very much committed to do that.
Climate change has become one of the major concerns of the international community and you have devoted a lot of efforts to this issue. There is going to be a meeting in Bali in December this year. What do you expect from that meeting?
I was very much encouraged by the result of the high-level meeting on climate change, which was on September 24 in the United Nations under my chairmanship. There were 80 heads of state and government, with 168 countries participating. Their messages were very clear. Science has made it quite clear that we are now already feeling the impact of the global warming. The leaders have agreed that it is time now for the international community to take action. The international community has not taken sufficient and appropriate action. Therefore, it is now time to take action. They have agreed that the appropriate forum of this negotiation should be the United Nations and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I hope these messages will be heard by the negotiators, who will participate in the Bali conference, clearly and loudly. I'm convinced that leaders have sent out very credible messages already. On the basis of this, in Bali, I hope we'll be able to reinvigorate the old maps and directions of our negotiations. It will be a long and difficult negotiation process, but Bali should be the starting point, where the international community should be ready, or prepared to negotiate to make a necessary agreement on the mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing measures.
China, as one of the emerging economies, is a crucially important country. I hope China will actively participate. I know that China has its own domestic challenges. At the same time, I appreciate the Chinese Government's own initiative and [its] commitment to participating in this. China's active participation and commitment will be crucially important.
How would you describe China's role in UN affairs?
China is a key player in the United Nations, being one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As one of the major emerging economies in the world, China has been playing a very important role in all walks of the United Nations. Maintaining a strong partnership between the United Nations and China is very important, particularly to the United Nations. As Secretary General [of the United Nations], I hope that China will continue to play such an important role as one of the pillar countries of the United Nations in peace and security, development, disarmament and non-proliferation issues. China has been actively contributing to the geopolitical issues like the situation in Darfur. We are very much appreciative of China's contribution by providing military forces as well as technical engineering teams to Darfur. I hope your contribution in peacekeeping operations will continue.
Some people in the West have accused China of not doing enough on the issue of Darfur. Some of them have even gone so far as to suggest boycotting the Beijing Olympic Games. What is your comment on that?
China has been playing a very constructive role in the Darfur situation. China has dispatched an engineering team to Darfur and has also appointed a special envoy, who has been working very closely with the international community. As far as the question of the so-called boycott of the [Beijing] Olympics [is concerned], I think it is not warranted and is misplaced. They are totally separate issues. We are looking forward to the most successful hosting of the Olympic Games next year. I watched the big ceremony of the 365-day countdown that was fantastic and spectacular. I'm sure that your people and government will make it the most successful hosting of the Olympic Games.
What are your expectations on the coming peace talks on the Darfur issue in Libya later this month?
It is going to be crucially important for the resolution of the Darfur issue. I was encouraged by the fact that I was able to organize this political negotiation meeting in Tripoli, Libya, on October 27. I have been trying my best to mobilize necessary resources and also create a favorable atmosphere so that all the rebel leaders would participate in that negotiation. It is absolutely necessary for the leaders of rebel groups to participate in that peace negotiation. I'm concerned that some of the leading groups are still showing reluctance. If they really think of the future of their own country, the leaders of these groups should participate in the peace talks rather than staying out, and the leaders should know [how] to make a right decision at the right time. We will try our best to convince those leaders of rebel groups, particularly Abdul Wahid [el-Nur], to participate in the negotiations. However, participation or non-participation of any particular individual group should not be the criteria to judge the failure or success of the talks. So we will convene the meeting as planned.
How do you compare the result of the second inter-Korea summit with that of the first in the year 2000?
I am encouraged and happy and excited about the result of the second summit meeting between the DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and the ROK (the Republic of Korea). The first meeting, which took place in June 2000, was also very historic. At that time, there were some agreements, but those agreements had not been implemented. This time, the two leaders have agreed in a much more detailed manner. This is a step forward in solidifying the already going-on exchanges and cooperation. It will certainly help further national reconciliation and build mutual trust. With these agreements going on and [being] implemented, I'm quite convinced that both South and North Korea will be able to further solidify their groundwork for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. If everything goes smoothly, it will contribute to peace and security even beyond the Korean Peninsula.
As you have just mentioned, the agreements reached during the first inter-Korea talks have failed to be implemented. What are the potential obstacles the two sides have to overcome to truly carry out the joint declaration this time?
Because of the long division of the peninsula, there has not been sufficient trust and confidence between the two parts. Occasional incidents really created many obstacles in carrying out the first summit agreement. During the last seven years, exchanges and cooperation have been much widened and deepened. On the basis of this, North Koreans and South Koreans have been able to deepen their mutual trust. Now on this basis, the two leaders have agreed on many detailed agreements. Therefore, I'm quite confident that the implementation process will be much smoother than before.
What are the key factors that may adversely affect the true implementation of the joint document signed at the latest round of the six-party talks in Beijing?
Again, I'm optimistic. I do not want to look at the negative side or obstacles. As a matter of principle, you should always look at the positive side to implement this six-party agreement. This is again one step forward toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It contains many important elements in furthering the denuclearization process; for example, disabling these nuclear facilities with the eventual dismantlement of all nuclear facilities and materials. This is a very important agreement. I'm very much encouraged by the agreement of the six-party talks. This is much further on the basis of the February agreement this year.
You once said you have a soft ear. Some people have interpreted soft ear as a kind of soft stand. What's your comment?
When you reach the age of 60, you should be able to have the good wisdom to listen to everybody's views and concerns and you should make your own judgments in the most reasonable and objective way. In Asian culture, important virtues are modesty and soft speaking. That should not be misunderstood as a lack of commitment, lack of leadership, lack of energy or dynamism. This softness is sort of a style of one's behavior. But I have made decisive decisions whenever a critical situation comes.
(Reporting by Wang Gangyi, Wang Yanjuan and Chen Wen from New York)