Kim Dae-jung Peace Forum 2021, Envisioning the World beyond COVID-19: A New Basis for World Peace

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Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão

KAYRALA XANANA GUSMÃO

Former President of the Republic and former Prime Minister of Timor-Leste 

Keynote Speech on “Reconciliation and Solidarity”

27-28 October 2021

Kim Dae-jung Nobel Peace Prize Memorial

Mokpo, Republic of Korea

 

I am deeply honored to take part in the Kim Dae-jung Peace Forum. Thank you for your kind invitation.

Allow me to start by acknowledging the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center and Jeollanamdo Province for enabling this forum on world peace to take place.

In a world that reels with division, conflict and suffering, I bow to the memory of Kim Dae-jung. President Kim Dae-jung was an inspirational leader, whose steadfast values and faith nurtured democratization, peace and human rights both in the Korean Peninsula and throughout Asia.

As well as these reasons for honouring Kim Dae-jung’s memory, his resilience and political courage – which shined through when promoting peace and reconciliation with North Korea – is also a reminder to the International Community of the importance of ‘conscience in action’ and the value of persisting with dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The more daunting the challenges, the more pressing is the need for all people to be peacemakers. The current orchestra of the new world order (or perhaps world disorder) needs to be fine-tuned so as to play music that conveys hope. This is the only way we can achieve an environment of stability and peace. And yet we continue to meet hatred with hatred and division with further division. We respond to chaos and war by waging even more war, often under the banner of a “civilising mission”.

Reconciliation may well be the only way to restore peace. Democracy, when desired by the people, may also be the only way to achieve balanced and inclusive development. And in this regard, we must look to the exemplary lessons taught to us by Kim Dae-jung, and his ability to forgive and move forward towards a democratic transformation that understands that the process can be long and difficult and that the very individuals who are destabilising peace must necessarily be the ones who contribute to peace building.

And peace is just what the world needs!

This century is being marked by growing unrest. International relations are confusing- and appear to be governed by an unquenchable thirst for resources and power, rather than guided by a moral imperative to shape peace.

This became very clear with the global pandemic, which is perhaps the most serious crisis the world has faced since World War II. The pandemic hit both the rich and the poor, and in both the global North and the South.

Covid-19 exposed many of the weaknesses of the international order. Borders were closed and economic, social and institutional crises spawned all over the world, leading to the inevitable increase in poverty in the poorest countries.

Global inequality is a historical and structural problem that concerns us all. Ensuring equitable access to vaccines all over the world is everyone’s responsibility. And yet we see some countries preparing to administer third doses, while other countries still wait for their first with limited access to supplies. These circumstances reveal a great international selfishness.

The situation in Africa, where only a marginal percentage of people have been vaccinated, is a flagrant example of how international society is failing. It is failing because we continue to lack the ability to help those that need it the most and because our selfishness makes us blind to the risk of having the virus mutate into new variants that lead to new public health crises.

Global threats require global responses. In our time, no one is safe until everyone is safe.

The manner in which we handle Covid-19 is a generational test for the international community.

This is the time for everyone to practice “conscience in action”, so as to leave no one behind. It is urgent to facilitate access and administration of vaccines to the most vulnerable populations, lest we fail our test of moral solidarity – precisely as we begin to envision a new age, the post-virus age. And the first step towards “Envisioning the World beyond COVID-19: A New Basis for World Peace” is to revise engagement paradigms that contribute to peace, as well as to jointly reflect on how international solidarity can work faster when responding to and preventing crises.

At the start of the pandemic, many believed that this was a unique opportunity to build a better world. However, this requires global cooperation like never before. Such cooperation goes well beyond public health.

There are shocking disparities interms of human development within and across borders.

I would point to the disparities in terms of access to education and modern technologies, which became even clearer during this crisis. To provide children and young people with the tools for their development is to invest in the peacekeepers. On the other hand, unless we reduce economic inequalities between countries, we are not working towards global sustainable recovery and growth.

And while “without peace there is no development”, it is no less true that “without development there is no peace”!

Notwithstanding these concerns, this crisis has shown that people can respond collectively, including with social distancing and isolation requirements. From this we can draw a fundamental lesson: the importance of collective action!

We need to take action for the common good. We need solidarity in action. We must not create a new generation of inequalities! We cannot exclude development from any place, no matter how small it may be.

We must reflect on what it is that divides humankind in such a way that peace can be so difficult to obtain.

The Afghan tragedy can leave no one indifferent.

No one may feel reconciled with themselves knowing that Afghan people are enduring hell on earth. It is obscene to think that those – such as Afghan girls and women – who already lack so much are about to lose the very last thing to which they were holding: hope!

It was not surprising to witness the chaos and despair caused by the withdrawal of those who proclaimed “mission accomplished” in Kabul. Even before that, I could no longer contain my indignation at the suffering occurring in Yemen, Libya and Syria.

So too is Africa deeply wounded. South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Ethiopia and other Sahel countries, and so many others. People like us, with faces, names, families and hopes. In Palestine and Israel, conflict and violence have been the reality for generations. It is imperative that we spare no effort to promote dialogue between their leaders.

Even though division runs deep, we need to test the power of reconciliation.

Nature’s fury has brought additional pain to people who have been suffering for so long. Haiti is one of the most recent examples. While it is urgent to provide humanitarian relief, the people of Haiti require long term solidarity.

During the pandemic we watched democracy weaken in many parts of the world. In more fragile democracies, the pandemic brought the temptation to cross thresholds, some of which are unacceptable. How much longer will democracy in Myanmar continue to be but a pipe dream?

Democracy and peace cannot be attained by people who are not willing to earn them and to take responsibility for their own fate. Still, although the International Community cannot do everything for a country, it should take care not to harm it due to lack of unity and consistency.

As someone who led people who were the victims of illegitimate occupation within a Cold War context, and who hoped for a new world order, I am saddened to see that what we now have is a new world disorder.

The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out in the name of democracy and human rights. Still, after decades of investment to establish order and progress, legitimated by the concepts of “capacity building” and “state building” that adopted foreign models, doctrines and experts, the results are plain to see.

Not only did situations deteriorate for those people, we now have thousands joining the ever-growing list of refugees, for which the International Community is yet to find an answer.

I believe that the primitive policies of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” followed by the key world leaders only lead to further antagonism and thirst for revenge and destruction, instead of creating the necessary space for dialogue on peace and cooperation towards regional safety.

I am afraid that if world leaders fail to respond to the consequences of their own policies, by investing in reconciliation and processes of dialogue, they will have to deal with the horrors of violence against innocent civilians increasingly close to home, rather than just continue to watch from the comfort of their homes.

Last month it was the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, following which “hard power” was used to fight a global threat. The world declared war on terrorism.

We have not won this war and we never will until we address the root causes of the problem. Terrorism is a strategy that adapts to circumstances.

In order for the International Community to defeat terrorism it must adopt a long-term strategy, rather than simply responding to arising circumstances. This strategy must not be constrained by the need for economic and geostrategic supremacy, but rather be guided by the need for serious investments in societies and people, taking account of the realities in which they live.

I admit that obstacles on the path to peace are hugely complex. Nevertheless, we must stop to consider whether the lens through which we see them is the most adequate one. The Western lens does not apply to every idiosyncrasy.  The International Community is too myopic to restore the trust required to overcome the problems ahead.

We must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and let go of pent-up tensions and hatred. This is what a reconciliation process is all about.

Throughout this process, to find intelligent policies for a peaceful world, we cannot ignore the dark clouds hovering above our common future: environmental catastrophe and nuclear weapons.

With the former, we must all do our part. Still, let us be realistic. It is the strongest economies that have been benefiting from pollution, while the weaker economies suffer the most.

We are putting our final hopes in the commitments to be made at the COP26. Mitigating the effects of climate change also means preventing tensions, conflict and even further pandemics. If there is a will, we are still in time to reconcile ourselves with nature.

As for the latter, it is inconceivable to me that we can think of establishing appraoches towards world peace without greater collective effort to ensure nuclear disarmament.

To free ourselves from the nuclear threat we must first free ourselves from pride and hubris. We must continue insisting on communication, dialogue and diplomacy. We need brave “sunshiners”1 in this mission to ensure peace both in the Korean Peninsula and throughout the world.

1 Kim Dae-jung introduced the “Sunshine” policy to engage with North Korea in 1998, seeking lasting peace for the Korean Peninsula.

To make peace in the world is no easy task. Still, we can start by making a difference in our own societies, with our neighbours, and in our region.

For over twenty years Timor-Leste endured the cruelty of illegal occupation by a giant neighbour that did not act alone. In addition to enormous resources, Indonesia also relied on a geopolitical alliance as well as international hypocrisy.

Still, the Timorese were steadfast in refusing to have their fates rest in the hands of the superpowers that had decided we were not suited to be an independent State.

We resisted not by waging war, since we could never compete with the heavy weaponry and thousands of soldiers supported by the regional players, but rather by using guerrilla tactics and with the heavy sacrifices of the Timorese people.

We resisted and we put our faith in the central role that legitimacy plays in international relations, urging the International Community to find a peaceful solution for the political status of Timor-Leste.

Together we realised international law, with unique examples of international diplomacy and solidarity. Through the 1999 Referendum, held under the UN banner, our people voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Although Indonesia ended up accepting the outcome of the Referendum, it left behind a country in chaos that needed to be rebuilt from scratch.

Fortunately, we were able once more to rely on the amazing solidarity of the International Community. We established development partnerships that enabled us to take our first steps to build our country.

I would like to recall that President Kim Dae-jung was always an important supporter of the Timorese cause, even going as far as making the South Korean army available to the International Community in order to protect human rights in Timor- Leste.

I can honestly say that the first years of independence were not much easier than the years of occupation and conflict. Not only did our State have to learn how to be a State, so too did our People – wounded and scarred by decades of occupation – have to learn how to be a Nation. Thus, we endured cyclical crises of violence.

The good news is that we learned important lessons from this and were able to choose peace.

We started by investing in reconciliation between the Timorese, who had become polarised as a result of the difficult and complex struggle leading to independence. This polarisation was affecting the process of building the new country.

We also sought reconciliation with our Indonesian neighbours, since we soon realised that we could not move forward with building our country if we still harboured feelings of hatred, mistrust and vengeance towards our closest neighbour, with which we ultimately share so much.

The people of Timor-Leste and Indonesia chose to walk together the path towards democratic transition and economic growth. We currently enjoy an excellent relationship of friendship and cooperation with Indonesia, enabling stability in the region and development in both our countries.

Secondly, we learned to address our State’s key weakness, which was the inability to address the real causes of problems in a sustainable manner.

We appeared before the institutions of State with a new political stance, searching together for inclusive and lasting solutions and putting collective interests above all other interests.

Throughout this process it was also important to restore dignity to those who made countless sacrifices to the cause of independence.

We invested in the demobilisation and reintegration of veterans, created measures of welfare protection and justice for the most vulnerable groups and reformed our law enforcement and our military, so as to reconcile the differences that kept them apart and to correct the mistakes made during their capacity building and training.

Some of our development partners frowned upon our decisions. It seemed to them that we were buying peace. But I say that no one knew our nature and our reality better than us. In order to walk the path towards peace, all those who are part of the problem must be involved and must feel part of the solution.

Solidarity is more than just being ready to help. It also means wanting to learn about and to understand the reality and suffering of those who need help. Timor-Leste is forever thankful for the international solidarity that has seen us through our most difficult times.

My country is testament to the success of multilateralism. Timor-Leste relied on International Law and International Organisations to achieve its independence.

Recently, Timor-Leste relied once more on International Law and International Organisations to achieve its full maritime sovereignty.

After years of disputes on where a maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia should lie, both countries managed to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome through a compulsive conciliation process held under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We are currently holding consultations with Indonesia seeking final delimitation of our shared maritime boundaries. It has been agreed that negotiations will be held in good faith and in accordance with International Law, particularly UNCLOS. These are good examples of how it is possible to rely on the legal order and on international relationships to solve disputes peacefully.

Recently the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, launched the “Our Common Agenda” report at United Nations General Assembly.

I believe that this may be an important roadmap to guide our future actions. In today’s multipolar world, no nation – no matter how powerful – can meet global threats by itself. If a threat can cross a border, then it can also dilute that border.

We need to come together around an agenda that is centred on people. We need a truly shared agenda in which people can have trust and have hope.

It is unquestionable that the United Nations and the Security Council are in need of major reform.

Still, it is no less unquestionable that giving up on multilateralism and on a rulebased international order would mean giving up on children, men and women who  are suffering from violence, conflict, disease and hunger. It would also mean giving up on refugees, the underprivileged and even nature herself.

Giving in to chaos and uncertainty will not lead us to peace. However, if every one of us, whether individually or in a group, whether informally or formally, displays greater solidarity and is able to come together around a common agenda, we can still hope for a world of peace.

Before I conclude, I would like to convey to you a story about unity. Timor-Leste is part of a group of fragile and conflict-affected States called the g7+, where around 20 countries share their experiences on peacebuilding and Statebuilding. Through the “Fragile to Fragile Cooperation” (F2F) Programme we promote peace, reconciliation and sustainable prosperity.

As a result of this unity and commitment, we became part of the global discussion on sustainable development in fragile States, while seeking a new world order. If a global partnership on our development is being discussed, we say: “nothing about us, without us”!

Our member States, which hail from various parts of the world, could not be any more different in terms of geography, history, culture and even ideology. Nevertheless, we all share the suffering of our people and the dream of a world of peace.

We cannot stop daring to dream, because where there is a will, there is a way. We can and must do everything in our means to make Peace – everything except giving up the fight or silencing our voice.

Thank you very much.

Kayrala Xanana Gusmão

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