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Ban Ki-moon: Towards A More Engaged Asia

Remarks by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City
November 6, 2007

President Vishakha Desai, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Barry Diller, Mr. Ajay Banga, Mr. Martin Sullivan, Mr. Neville Isdell, Mr. Yoshio Taniguchi, Shahram Nazeri, Ambassador Chris Hill, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Ambassador Hill, for your kind words. And thank you all for your very warm welcome. This room may be full of dignitaries, but it feels more like a homecoming.

Of course, the Waldorf was my home until recently. The Secretary-General's official residence has been undergoing a facelift, and this was the family dining room. I am glad we now have downsized.

Tonight, you are recognizing some remarkable individuals. May I salute Mr. Taniguchi on the beautiful new Museum of Modern Art. Shahram Nazeri is a musical icon. I am delighted that he will be performing with the Rumi Ensemble this evening. I am pleased, too, that you are honoring Neville Isdell of Coca Cola. I know him well from our work together on the UN Global Compact, promoting corporate responsibility worldwide. Congratulations to you all.

For my part, it's simply an honor to be here on this a special occasion. The Asia Society was founded, 51 years ago, to promote greater understanding in America. Today, your society is a truly global institution, gaining ever more prominence as Asia emerges on the world's stage. You have offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, and other world cities. It's only fitting, now, that you are opening a center in Korea, and that my beloved Seoul takes its place among you.

Ladies and gentlemen:

When I decided to run for Secretary-General of the United Nations, I sought out the Asia Society to make my case. Now that I am back, a year later, I can see many friends who helped. I won't embarrass them all. But I would like to acknowledge Ambassador Holbrooke, who prepared me for the bruising that was to come.

We had barely finished shaking hands when, in his trademark fashion, he gave me a shot right between the eyes.

"Ban," he said. "What's Article 97?" Reluctantly, I admitted I had no clue. "Chief Administrative Officer," he informed me, pointing a finger. You're the guy who's supposed to make the trains run, who reports to the General Assembly. And there I was, thinking about the "General" in the title of Secretary-General.

Thank you, Richard, for the cold shower. That was the beginning of a hard and long campaign, answering many such difficult questions. You helped me find the proper path. I thank you again for that and look forward to our continuing work on HIV/AIDS.

My friends, the Asia Society enjoys unique standing in our new era. We may or may not be witnessing the dawn of the Asia-Pacific Century. But no one can deny the importance of Asia's rise, nor the growing importance of institutions such as the Asia Society.

From my earliest days as a young diplomat, I knew this to be a place for dialogue—for discourse rather than declaration, engagement rather than confrontation. It is a place where reason and understanding trump sound bites and easy political rhetoric.