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[Incumbent] Remarks by H.E. Kang, Kyung-wha Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea IISS Manama Dialogue December 5, 2020

  • Date : 2020-12-07 10:35:58
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Remarks by H.E. Kang, Kyung-wha
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea
IISS Manama Dialogue
December 5, 2020


Y.E. Minister Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al-Zayani,
Dr. John Chipman, Excellencies,
Distinguished guests, 
It is a great honor to join you for this year’s Manama Dialogue.  I would like to thank the IISS and the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain for the invitation.  I am delighted to be the first Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea to engage in this prestigious forum, but certainly not the last, I hope. 
A growing web of ties have been forged between Korea and the countries of the Middle East over the past decades.  I am confident that the trajectory will accelerate in future years.    
We are at a time of profound change, unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by political transformations across the globe.  In the Middle East in particular, tectonic shifts are taking place: The Abraham Accords is starting to reshape the political and security landscape, and economies are innovating to prepare for the post-oil era.  Around the world, including in Northeast Asia, the strategic competition among the global powers is getting broader and deeper.  
Change harbors both risks and opportunities.  The times call for proactive diplomacy to manage the risks and make the most of the opportunities for peace and prosperity.

The immediate challenge we face is the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc across the globe.  With the recent news that vaccines are on their way, the end of the tunnel seems within reach.  But getting there will require much more global solidarity than the international community has been able to muster so far.
Global governance was at a low point when Covid-19 struck, with trust in multilateralism and the rules-based international order already greatly eroded.  In the early weeks of the pandemic, discord and tension among member states hampered the WHO, at a time when it needed more support to forge a united front against the fast spreading virus. 

The situation lingers, but the call for global solidarity and cooperation has strengthened over the passing months, as expressed by world leaders including President Moon Jae-in of Korea at global fora such as the WHA, G20, APEC and others.  Indeed, to end the pandemic and prepare for the post-Covid-19 era, we need to infuse new energy into global governance with focused multilateral action.  The Republic of Korea is a staunch supporter of multilateralism at global and regional levels, and is ready to actively contribute to the endeavors.
Korea was one of the first to be hit by Covid-19 at one point in February.  We had the second highest number of confirmed cases in the world.  We are now at 95th according to WHO with the total number of cases at 36,915 and deaths at 540 as of today.  We have managed to keep the virus at bay while keeping society open and preserving the people’s freedom of movement, with social distancing and movement restriction measures phased in and out as proportional to the risk of the spread.  We have also kept our borders as open as possible for international travel. 
We are all too aware that for us to feel fully safe again, the whole world has to be safe.  The virus knows no borders.  Even in countries that banned entry of foreigners, the virus has found its way in and spread.  And border closures have had stifling sometimes devastating effects on societies and economies.  The digital tools and on-line interactions have made up for some of the loss, but hardly enough.           
Covid-19 is a humble reminder of our interconnectedness as well as our shared vulnerability, and thus the critical importance of global solidarity and international cooperation. 
I believe concerted action in the following areas is key to end Covid-19 and to strengthen countries and the global community to be resilient, inclusive and better prepared for future crisis. 
First, countries should spare no effort in supporting each other, near and far, in strengthening emergency health capabilities, including securing equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. 
In this regard, it is encouraging that the world has been pulling together to develop and achieve equitable and adequate distribution of vaccines through the COVAX Facility and AMC - led by WHO, Gavi and CEPI.  Korea is an active supporter and participant in these endeavors.     
In addition, through our “ODA Korea: Building TRUST” initiative, we have also provided test kits and face masks to more than 120 countries.  We are also supporting many governments to strengthen their public health systems, including our partners in the Middle East.  
Secondly, we need to intensify efforts to strengthen the global health architecture centered around the WHO, and place the safety and dignity of human beings at the heart of global governance for the post-Covid-19 era.
We strongly support the WHO’s role in generating technical and scientific expertise and assisting member states as well as efforts to make the WHO stronger and more effective in tackling current and future public health challenges. 
For this purpose, Korea and other like-minded governments have established a friends group in Geneva.  A key area of work in this regard is to upgrade the International Health Regulations (IHR) with stronger compliance tools.
We have also launched “friends groups” at UN HQ in NY and UNESCO in Paris to build to mainstream pandemic-related concerns across the work of the UN.   
Thirdly, as we scramble to sustain and restore the dynamism of our economies with expansionary budget and stimulus packages, we need coordinated action to rebuild our economies, including by normalizing cross-border movement of people, starting with essential travel. 
From the outset, so as to soften the shock, Korea has enforced only the minimum necessary restrictions on the cross-border movements of people and goods.  We have also established “fast-track procedures” with many countries, including the United Arab Emirates, to streamline the arrival process and minimize quarantine upon entry for business people.  With many other Middle East partners, we are implementing various methods for exceptional entries. 
As a result, work has continued in the many infrastructure projects that Korean firms are taking part in in this region.  These will be instrumental for the post-Covid economies in the region.
Lastly, we must better prepare for future pandemics by strengthening regional coordination.  
In my part of the world, President Moon proposed at the UN General Assembly last September to launch a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Disease Control and Public Health, inviting countries in our region including North Korea.  We are wasting no time in getting this off the ground. 
We believe this initiative can serve to solidify regional cooperation on public health, and bring North Korea into a regional mechanism aiming to safeguard the health and safety of our peoples.  It will also generate positive energy for the Korean Peninsula peace process, i.e. my government’s endeavors to achieve complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. 
Ladies and gentlemen,
It will take many years before the full picture emerges on the multiple consequences of Covid-19.  But the key lesson is obvious.  We must all work together.  From the onset of the pandemic, Korea has indeed been working closely together with many countries in this region: to bring home our nationals stranded overseas, to provide testing kits and masks, to share experience and knowledge about the virus, and to institutionalize the cooperation with MOUs.   
Korea will continue the collaboration beyond the pandemic on a host of issues that connects us to this region.  Finding common solutions to the challenges of climate change, transition to clean energy, terrorism, cyber security, AI and emerging technologies will bring us closer together. 
In the changing global landscape, we also share the abiding mission of bringing lasting peace and realizing nuclear non-proliferation in our respective parts of the world, with deep historical roots and complex geopolitical dynamics.
My government is firmly committed to work towards these goals through dialogue and negotiations, and counts on the support of our partners in the region.  You can count on us for the same.  This aspiration, I hope, is wholly shared by the participants gathered for today’s dialogue. 
Thank you.  /END/