Is Ban ready for the presidency?

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Is Ban ready for the presidency?

Ghana, Egypt, Myanmar and Peru have produced secretary generals of the United Nations, dubbed the “world’s moderator.” They are not highly influential countries.

Just because a country is home to the head of the world’s most powerful organization does not necessarily elevate the status of the country. We are all proud that incumbent Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is one of ours. But both the individual and his countrymen have to work extra hard to make his title more special and meaningful. If asked, not many people would be able to easily answer what the Korean chief of the UN has done over the past nine years. He, of course, has done a lot.

He has played the usual role of the “world’s moderator” by flying to conflict zones and trying to mediate for peace. He expanded the traditional role of the UN chief by taking initiative in bringing world attention to universal challenges from climate change. He has urged world leaders in both developed and developing hemispheres to lessen carbon gas emissions and promote renewable energy. Korea, however, is the world’s seventh-largest carbon producer.

By 2020, the country could be the world’s third largest. Yet Korea has been dragging its feet on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Even Ban publicly said he was ashamed of Korea’s slow progress on the front.

The government pledged to cut carbon emissions by 535.87 million tons - only about 37 percent of the country’s business-as-usual level projected for 2030. Local companies must spend 7 trillion won ($6 billion) to 13 trillion won to meet the target. It is a price Korea - as home to the UN leader who champions the campaign to reduce greenhouse gas - must pay.

But we do not know how many companies will follow through on the commitment. They could defer to buy time and hope the agenda will be forgotten by the incoming government. Korea’s Official Development Assistance has also increased little, even though one of its nationals is in charge of arranging funds to help developing and poor countries. Although the country is one of the Group of 20 member countries, Korea has been stingy in contributing to the international community.

What’s more embarrassing is that the country has been little interested in what the secretary general has been doing and working on - not to mention help with his campaigns all these years - but is suddenly paying attention to him as a potential candidate for the next president from the conservative camp. We act like a shallow parent who boasts about having sent his or her son to an elite school like Harvard University and expects him to be rewarded with a high-paying job upon return just because of the university title.

Our propensity towards superficiality has led to favoring Ban as a popular choice for the next president. Ban may be silently enjoying all the hype, even as he maintains ambiguity on the issue. He could demand a stop to all the fuss and say the talk was hampering his job because he has no plans to run for the presidency. But so far, he has not.

With a year left in his term, Ban would want to leave a meaningful achievement on his record, which is mediation on North Korea. The outcome of his visit to the recalcitrant country cannot be measured. But whichever way, skeptics could say that he has only done North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a favor and his meeting with the young Kim was a political show to help his presidential campaign.

To silence such obvious controversy and doubts, Ban could learn from former Swedish UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. At the height of the Cold War, he visited Beijing in 1954. Washington opposed his visit, saying the UN would be kowtowing to its enemy, as the United Nations General Assembly had issued a resolution condemning China’s intervention in the 1950-93 Korean War.

But Hammarskjold went ahead with the trip, saying he wasn’t speaking for the UN General Assembly but was acting as the head of the world body whose role is to safeguard world peace. And he successfully negotiated the release of 15 captured U.S. pilots that had been detained as prisoners of war in the Korean War.

There is no reason why Ban cannot be like Hammarskjold. He needs not fear what others say if he is visiting Pyongyang for the genuine cause of world peace and humanity. Even if he does not return with substantial results that would awe and please the audience, he would at least win praise from his countrymen for doing whatever he can for this land. Then, he will really be eligible to run the country.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 23, Page 28

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kang Chan-ho

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