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ITF head says Koreas are in spotlight next year

But getting the North into any discussions will take diplomacy
May 28,2018
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Left: Kim Young-tae, secretary general of the International Transport Forum and formerly an official of the Korean Transport Ministry, speaks at the Leipzig summit on Thursday. Right: Kim Young-tae, right, poses with Han Seung-hoon, president of Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, on Friday. international transport forum
LEIPZIG, Germany - Kim Young-tae always wanted to represent his nation in an international organization.

His goal was realized last year when he was officially elected secretary general for the International Transport Forum (ITF), an OECD body that annually gathers transport ministers across the world to discuss the latest issues in global transport and sharing insights into policy-making in each member country. The body has representatives of 59 nations from around the world. The topic of this year’s forum was Road Safety and Security, with the Latvian government as co-host.

With his new position, Kim has risen higher in the OECD than any other South Korean ever, which he thinks will raise Korea’s standing on the global transport policy-making scene. He is also the first non-European to be elected chief of the global transport group. His term, which started last year, will last for five years.

After leading this year’s forum successfully, Kim now looks to next year’s forum, which will have the theme of Transport Connectivity for Regional Integration. South Korea will be the co-host, although the forum will take place, as always, in Leipzig.



“It’s a big responsibility for Korea to take over the presidency at such a time,” said Kim, referring to the possible resumption of economic exchanges between South Korea and North Korea, which could ultimately lead to the linking of railways and roads between the two Koreas. “If everything works out well, South Korea as the presidency of the forum will have a lot to say in achieving peace through connectivity.”

The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with the secretary general last Friday to discuss his role in a major post in the OECD and his vision for his motherland as it readies for next year’s forum.



Q. How was your first year? Was there anything that you especially focused on?

A
. Every time I have an opportunity to discuss my experience from the past year, I describe myself as a “freshman” or a “newcomer.” After I started my tenure and began working here, I realized how different the working environment was compared to the South Korean government. South Korean officials often have similar thoughts and approaches in their work. But here, we have about 60 employees who come from some 30 different countries and I had to learn how to cope and work with diversified perspectives in this organization. I prepared this year’s forum, trying to coordinate and work with different stakeholders and eliminate any waste of time and resources. Thankfully, many people participated in this year’s forum with interest and awareness of the problem we face today.



Can you explain the significance of your appointment as the secretary general of the ITF?

During the election process, I realized the international community has high expectations for South Korea. South Koreans are an elite work force, very smart and capable. However, it’s not so easy to see a lot of South Koreans taking up important positions in international organizations. I think the difference between South Koreans [and nationals of regions such as Europe and North America] is having a vision and the limits that they place for themselves. South Korean officials also often lack global perspectives in policy-making. The language barrier is also difficult for us. But there is a lot to be done in this world and South Koreans must look beyond their borders. I hope my election motivates others [from South Korea] to do this.



South Korea assumes the presidency for next year’s forum. Can you explain the process and the background behind the selected theme?

The selection of South Korea as the presidency with such a theme somewhat happened by chance. But I think this is a great opportunity for the country as it braces for possible economic exchanges with the North. Of course, there will always be bumps along the way but as next year also marks the 30th year anniversary of the unification of Germany, the timing could not be better for us to talk about the topic of regional integration through transport connectivity. South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee [who attended this year’s forum as the head of the South Korean delegation] told me that she was able to get a grip on how important the next year’s forum is and said the government will do its utmost to prepare for the forum.



Will the discussion on connecting railways from South to North and beyond be on the table next year?

I think it’s possible. We are a think tank and a platform that facilitates high-level talks among policy-makers across the world. Eurasian connectivity will be a hot topic next year.



The discussion will not be a success if North Korea is excluded. How will you get ready for this?

This is a difficult task but fortunately, there are many international organizations in transport, one of which North Korea is a member of: the Organization for Cooperation of Railways [OSJD]. While South Korea has not been able to join the organization due to the objection of the North, improved relations might be able to fix this, in which case dialogue between the North and the South will become much easier. The ITF also hopes for a platform-to-platform connection [between the ITF and the OSJD].


BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]