Fellow Koreans, descendants of the Provisional Government’s leading figures and members of the “Heritage of Korean Independence" (formerly Korea Liberation Association),
The Provisional Republic of Korea Government is the root of what we are today and the Republic of Korea’s legitimacy and spirit.
Today, we are gathered to vividly honor the path chosen by the Provisional Government – the great journey toward our independence. We have joined together to forever engrave the fierce historic scenes and passionate lives of the people before us into the National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government.
In December 2017, I became the first President of the Republic of Korea to visit the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea building in Chongqing, China. During my visit to that place imbued with our independence activists’ souls and spirit, I pledged to build the National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government.
The Commemorative Committee for the Korean Provisional Government and its Chairman Kim Ja-dong, who first proposed the construction of the National Memorial in 2015, have worked hard toward that goal. The National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government Construction Commission and its Chair Lee Jong-chan have also made extensive efforts.
Today, marking the 101st anniversary of the founding of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government, it is all the more overwhelming to hold a joint celebration and groundbreaking ceremony at last.
I am deeply grateful for your hard work and offer my profound respect on behalf of the Korean people to the descendants of the Provisional Government’s leading figures and members of the “Heritage of Korean Independence,” who have been upholding the history and spirit of the Provisional Government for the past century.
On April 11, 1919, the Provisional Republic of Korea Government established a democratic republic named the Republic of Korea by furthering our nation’s several-thousand-year-long history that was taken away by imperial Japan. It also declared Koreans to be the free people of a democratic, independent nation. It not only rejected any rule by a foreign nation but also transformed a history of sovereign rulers into a history of popular sovereignty, paving the way for a democratic republic’s new chapter in history from absolute monarchy.
Seodaemun Prison here is steeped in the blood of innocent men and women shed during the March First Independence Movement. The ordinary people who were awakened by the Movement turned into independence activists, and this place is instilled with their spirit.
The Provisional Republic of Korea Government, born from the March First Independence Movement, carried out independence movements for as many as 27 years, which is unprecedented in world history. It finally achieved the liberation and liberty that has led to a democratic republic today, the Republic of Korea.
The Provisional Government walked a path of tribulations and hardships, but it had never been alone. Donations paid with blood and sweat were sent to the Provisional Government from Koreans living on the home front and in China and the Maritime Province of Siberia as well as those in Hawaii and the state of California in the United States and those working on the sugarcane plantations in Mexico and the henequen plantations in Cuba.
In 1935, the members of the Provisional Government left Shanghai to escape surveillance and attacks from Japanese forces and arrived in Chongqing in 1940 via such cities as Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changsha, Guangzhou, Liuzhou and Qijiang. They could endure such a long march that stretched for over as many as 6,000 km thanks to the Koreans in the homeland who harbored aspirations for independence.
In 1941, the Provisional Government declared an all-out war against imperial Japan. In 1942, it created the Korean Liberation Army that mustered the capabilities of armed struggle against Japan through a left-right coalition within the independence movement forces. The Liberation Army conducted joint operations with the British Army in Myanmar and India.
Thanks to the Provisional Government’s fierce struggle for independence and unrelenting diplomatic efforts, it became possible for the Republic of Korea to be among the countries to be granted independence from colonial rule as stipulated in the 1943 Cairo Declaration. What makes the Provisional Government truly exceptional is the fact that it changed the Korean people’s history and cultivated democratic capabilities while fighting to regain the lost country. It solidified the foundation of the Republic of Korea as a democratic republic through perseverance, dedication, solidarity and cooperation.
Lee Dong-nyeong, the Provisional Government’s highest leader whose penname was Seokoh, bequeathed a motto, “Water trickling down a mountainside bores through rock.”
At the foundation of that noble patriotism that did not succumb to adversity lie both the faith in and love for the courage exhibited by ordinary people and the greatness of human beings bravely standing up to injustice.
Once again, I pay my profound tribute to the patriotic ancestors of the Provisional Government who devoted their entire lives to the independence of the country over a long period of time.
The most important reason for us to build the National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government is to keep the Provisional Government’s spirit at hand as a part of our contemporary history.
The Provisional Government’s independence movement was not merely “anti-imperial Japan.” Along with “self-reliant independence,” it left behind a legacy of great spirits: “liberty and equality,” based on the essential values of human dignity; “harmony and unity,” which embrace the genders, the haves and have-nots, regions, social classes and ideologies; and “love for humanity,” which contributes to human culture and peace.
We can fully sense the spirit of that day in the “provisional charter of the Republic of Korea” and the “Constitution of the Republic of Korea,” which were read today by Kim Won-woong, the chair of the “Heritage of Korean Independence,” and Jeong Go-eun, a student and great-granddaughter of independence activist Yun Ki-sup, respectively.
The National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government will feature accounts of this land’s ordinary people, who rose to be the masters of our country, and about our numerous forebears who founded the Republic of Korea. Teachers and students, the religious, police officers and bureaucrats, doctors and nurses, nameless porters with A-frames and itinerant vendors, visually impaired persons, miners, tenant farmers, domestic servants and gisaeng will also be recorded as proud heroes in the history of the independence movement.
The roots of our armed forces and police will be included as well. At the National Memorial, we will be proud of the fact that the roots of a “military that serves the people” also lie in the independence movement and the Provisional Government – the ROK Army, which started at Sinheung Military Academy and later evolved into the Korean Liberation Army; the ROK Air Force, which originated from the Korean Aviation Corp established in the U.S. state of California to nurture aviators and whose foundation was laid by the Air Force Design Committee under the Liberation Army’s General Headquarters; and the ROK Navy, which started from independence activists and their relatives and civilian merchant marine officers joining as volunteers.
Independence activist Kim Gu – pen name Baekbeom, the Provisional Government’s first commissioner of the police bureau – stressed that the mission of the police should include “the spirit of self-reliant independence and yardsticks for patriotism and caring for the people’s welfare.” The police have relied on that same spirit to this day. We will take pride in the fact that the roots of a police force that safeguards “democracy, human rights and people’s lives” trace back to the Provisional Government.
The fact that we achieved liberation on our own will be forever engraved within the National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government, which will be completed in 2021. We will confirm that the mainstream of our history was not pro-Japanese collaboration but the independence movement.
The Government will not stop even for an instant commemorating the history of the independence movement and letting the people know about it. In so doing, we will ensure that the legacy of the March First Independence Movement and the spirit of the Provisional Government are carried on to this day and our future generations can confidently become the protagonists of new chapters in history.
At the Cabinet Meeting on March 19, we decided to revise the Act on the Establishment and Management of National Cemeteries. It is intended to place the following under national management: 12 consolidated cemeteries for decorated independence activists nationwide, including the one in Hyochang Park, and 45 consolidated cemeteries for decorated patriots, including soldiers and police officers killed in the Korean War.
The project to turn Hyochang Park into a space to commemorate the independence movement has been underway since last year. By 2024, it will be transformed into a space where the people can pay tribute to the lives and spirit of independence activists in the course of their daily lives.
Welfare assistance for those who served the nation with distinction will be further strengthened. The number of hospitals entrusted with caring for those decorated patriots and their relatives will be increased from 320 last year to 420 this year and to 640 by 2022 so that convenient medical services will be available at nearby locations.
When rehabilitation centers are built at four local veterans hospitals by 2022 – beginning with the opening of a rehabilitation center at the Veterans Hospital in Gwangju this year – the system incorporating medical care, rehabilitation and convalescence will be established in a manner that ensures greater convenience. This coming November, the construction of a nursing home covering Gangwon-do Province will be completed. We will do everything we can to make sure that the nursing home for Jeollabuk-do Province will be able to open next year as planned.
Taking good care of and honoring decorated national patriots – those who dedicated themselves to independence, the defense of our fatherland and democratization – and their relatives is a measure that gauges the value of a nation’s existence and its dignity. We will fulfill our country’s duty so that decorated patriots and their bereaved relatives feel a sense of pride throughout their daily lives.
Fellow Koreans, descendants of leading figures of the Provisional Government and members of the “Heritage of Korean Independence,”
As our forebears encouraged each other and overcame hardships a century ago with hope for liberation that would surely come, we are weathering this extraordinary and grave situation with COVID-19 through solidarity and cooperation today.
Our citizens have made concessions in their daily lives with a mature sense of self-restraint and patience and are surmounting difficulties together by encouraging each other and sharing. I sense that the strong spirit of independence activists that did not break in the face of any ordeal is alive and breathing in the heart of our people.
We’ve come to understand this world where we live together more deeply now while jointly responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. As we contemplate how our actions could impact others, we jointly practice measures for “ourselves.” The socio-economic crisis we are about to face beyond COVID-19 may end up being even more severe than we expect.
However, no matter what crises we may face, we will again prevail through the united force of our people. While holding deep in our minds the spirit of independence activists and the weight of the responsibility given to us, we will band together and cooperate among ourselves in order to surmount the COVID-19 outbreak and, taking it a step further, will do the same with the world.
The Provisional Republic of Korea Government has become a source of steadfast courage for us whenever we face ordeals and adversities. The National Memorial of Korean Provisional Government will always stand as one of the greatest sources of strength as we move toward a better democracy, envision peace and unification by going beyond division and hostility, and work to realize such human values as inclusiveness and mutual benefit.