The President of South Korea has said his people and his government are prepared for any contingency on the Korean peninsular.
His comments came after neighbouring North Korea test-launched several missiles, threatened the South with war, and even detonated a second nuclear device. President Lee Myung-bak came to Europe for the G8 summit; to celebrate 20 years of close ties with Poland and to put the finishing touches to a free-trade agreement between South Korea and the EU. He also had a 20 minute audience with the Pope. And in his first major european TV interview since becoming president, the man they call “The Bulldozer” also told euronews why he is giving away his personal fortune – worth 16 million euros – to help the poor. euronews Mr President, I have to ask you about your neighbour North Korea, because over the last six weeks there has been a nuclear test and several missile test-firings – many of them just a few days ago. How dangerous is your neighbour? President Lee Myung-bak Globally there are some very pressing security concerns. Terrorism is one, and if you look at individual countries, then North Korea is indeed a very serious issue. One of the most serious and urgent worries is North Korea’s involvement in nuclear proliferation. If nuclear materials, for instance, are being spread and exported to other regimes then obviously global security will be seriously damaged. That is one reason why the North Korean issue is very serious. euronews The missile launches and specifically the nuclear test sent shockwaves throughout the world that were felt here in Europe, thousands of kilometres away. I wonder how it felt sitting in Seoul, so close. President The people and government of South Korea are prepared for all contingencies on the Korean peninsular. That means being militarily ready, and preparing the people psychologically for anything. South Korean people have been in a state of readiness since our country was divided 60 years ago. But at the same time we are not completely immersed by North Korea. People live their daily lives normally and our economy goes on as usual, which I find quite gratifying. euronews How would you characterise your counterpart in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il? President Chairman Kim Jong-il is leader of one of the most isolated countries in the world. As we know the 21st century is an era when almost all nations around the world are opening up, and through international co-operation they are developing their economies and so on. But North Korea still remains probably the only country in the world to be so isolated and this is something many people can not easily understand. euronewsAnd to a certain degree even more isolated now that the Sunshine Policy of the last ten years has been wound back. Are you purposely taking a more aggressive attitude to North Korea? President Previous South Korean administrations provided about 4.3 billion euros of assistance to North Korea over the last ten years. The idea was to open up North Korea, but that did not work. Now they have nuclear arms – or, at least they are trying to make them. My administration is trying to encourage North Korea to come to the negotiating table. Of course one of the means we will use is the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution. euronews North Korea seems to be ignoring everybody at the moment, and just doing what it wants to do. What’s the next step? President Firstly, I understand there are many complex domestic issues in North Korea which are driving its current behaviour. Being mindful of all that my government will continue to strengthen international co-operation, especially with countries like China and Russia who have already come on board. They are very much in favour of trying to bring about a peaeceful resolution to this issue. And traditionally many European member states have had very close relations with North Korea for quite some time – so I would like to hope that they would continue to have an interest in this matter so we can bring about a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue. I think with close international co-operation, we can encourage North Korea to come back to the negotiating table. It is going to be difficult but it is not impossible. euronews You are neogtiating a free trade agreement with the European Union. How far have you got with that, how close is it to coming to fruition? President We ahve been engaged in negotiations with the European Union on a free trade agreement for quite some time, and I think we are really in the final stages. Of course, I understand that internally the European Union has to sort out some of the positions of its individual member states. When that is done, we expect perhaps this summer – sometime in July or August – to be announcing the conclusion of our negotiations. euronews Opponents to such a deal here in the EU would fear a flood, an influx of cheap Korean cars – I’m sorry – inexpensive Korean cars. President The car industry is only one aspect. There are also many other goods, products and services that will flow between Korea and the EU. There are some aspects that will be beneficial; where there will be advantages for one, where it is not so beneficial for the other. But, as a whole I believe it will bring tremendous benefits for both South Korea and the EU. As for cars, I do not believe that Korean cars are the inexpensive Korean cars of the past. I believe Korean cars are probably equal, or even more expensive than their European counterparts. So now it will come down to quality. That is where the competition will lie between Korean and european cars. But also, an agreement will give european car makers much more access to the Korean market – where they already have a substantial share. Plus, they will have a foothold from which they can advance into other economies in north east Asia and Asia as a whole. If you look at it holistically, i think will be very beneficial for both South Korea and the EU. euronews You mentioned G20 Mr President, but of course this week it is G8. Is G8 obsolete now? What is the point of G8? President There are many global challenges, and I think the G8 may not be suitable to address successfully all of the global concerns that we have ahead. That is why we have G20 – the G8 members plus the emerging and developing economies – so that they can work together through international co-operation to resolve some of the very pressing global concerns. Do I believe the G8 is obsolete? Absolutely not. I believe G8 has a substantial role and responsibility which is unique, but also at the same time I think the G20 has many ways of contributing to solving these global issues. euronews Mr President I would like to ask you about a gesture that has been widely reported, and really quite unusual for the leader of any country. That is, you are giving away all of your money. Could you tell me a little about that? President It is a little embarrassing that you mentioned that, but indeed of all the incumbent presidents I do stand out by giving away my personal fortune back to society. I grew up in extreme poverty. Throughout my life, I was helped by many people. Most of them were not very well-off, similar to my situation at that time. And as you see I became President because of the help of these very warm-hearted people. Now that I am able to, I feel it is my responsibility to give back what I managed to earn through the help of such people, especially to those who are very hard-working yet not very well-off. I consider it a pure joy that I am able to do so.