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Remarks at a Dinner Hosted by President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea in Seoul

November 21, 1998

Mr. President, thank you for your kind words and your kind welcome to Korea. I am very conscious that this visit, my third to Korea as President, comes at a pivotal time in the history of this great nation. In that regard, Mr. President, I would like to thank you for giving my fellow Americans and me the opportunity to have dinner tonight with such a broad range of people from every aspect of Korean society. And especially, thank you for having so many young people here, for it is their lives that will be most affected by the decisions we must make.

First, this is a moment of opportunity, on the 50th anniversary of your Republic, to complete what you, Mr. President, have called Korea's second nation building, securing in freedom the gains of your remarkable postwar transformation. It is also a challenging moment, for the Korean people have suffered from the whims of economic disruption and dislocation that have blown so strongly throughout all Asia. We in the United States have been heartened by the signs that your efforts at reform and recovery are beginning to succeed.

Mr. President, if Korea is on the right path— and I believe it is—it is not simply because economists have given good advice and leaders have made wise choices. More fundamentally, it is because a free people have given their leaders a mandate to confront problems with candor and the legitimacy to call for shared sacrifices.

Of course, there are still some who say that democracy is a luxury people can afford only when times are good. But Korea is proving that democracy can provide the necessary support for action when times are difficult.

At least one person in this room has known that truth for a long, long time. You, Mr. President, have committed a lifetime to the idea that liberty and prosperity can go hand in hand. For this, you were once treated as a dangerous criminal. But we all know that Kim Dae-jung was imprisoned not for crimes against his country but for his devotion to his country and his determination to put Korea's destiny into the hands of its people.

Now, Mr. President, look how your trust in the people has been rewarded. They have transferred you from a prison cell to the Blue House—although, if I might say, only partly in jest, on the hard days I imagine being in this job can feel like a form of solitary confinement. But this is a burden you have chosen to bear. What challenges you have embraced: protecting the security of your people while engaging their relatives in the North, restoring Korea's economy to growth while meeting human needs, and always maintaining the spirit of democracy.

Many years ago, President Kim said these words: "There are several paths to the mountaintop. During the course of climbing, the path we have chosen may seem to be the most treacherous, and the others may seem quite easy. There will be constant temptations to change course, but one should not succumb to them. Once on the mountaintop, there will be freedom to choose which path to follow on the descent."

All across Asia people once wondered which path Korea would choose. Now, Korea's answer—your answer, Mr. President—is helping to define what Asia's path will be in the 21st century. I believe Asia will emerge from this present crisis more prosperous, more stable, more democratic, thanks in no small measure to Korea's example.

Mr. President, we look forward to walking with you into the future, through hard times and good times, as allies, as friends, as pathfinders.

I ask now that all of you join me in a toast of appreciation to President Kim and to the people of Korea, and to the values and the future our nations will share.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:50 p.m. in the State Banquet Room at the Blue House. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of President Kim. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Dinner Hosted by President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea in Seoul Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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