decorated independence activists,
relatives of those departed and all Koreans living abroad,
Today, as we mark the 76th Liberation Day, the remains of General Hong Beom-do will finally arrive in his homeland. General Hong was the commander of the Greater Korea Independence Army that fought against imperial Japan from bases in China. He spearheaded historic victories at the battles of Fengwudong and Qingshanli. Later, he became a spiritual anchor for the ethnic Koreans that migrated to Kazakhstan. I am very pleased that my Administration’s diplomatic efforts to repatriate his remains have come to fruition. I am deeply grateful to Kazakh President Tokayev and the Korean diaspora there for all of their cooperation, both emotionally and materially.
As of today, the remains of 144 patriotic independence activists have been returned to their home country, starting with those of the patriotic martyrs Yun Bong-gil and Lee Bong-chang in 1946 right after liberation on up to General Hong Beom-do’s today. It is indisputably our duty and privilege as a nation and descendants to bring our independence heroes back home. We will do our best to that end.
Regardless of the hardships faced, our forebears never lost sight of their dream – self-reliant independence. They mounted a Korean independence movement wherever they found a home. Their indomitable will has been steadily carried on by posterity and, even now, serves as a source of strength to overcome national crises. I extend my deepest respect and gratitude to our forebears, decorated independence activists and their bereaved families.
Culture Station Seoul 284, where this ceremony is being held today, was a place of suffering and sorrow during the Japanese colonial period. Crops and goods produced on our land were plundered and shipped out from here. At this place, independence activists who set out on perilous paths and farmers who lost their fields bid farewell to their homeland. Student soldiers who were forcibly dragged off to battlefields in the prime of their youth and their loved ones shed tears here.
However, this station and its square came to house dreams and hopes after the country was liberated. Trains that departed from Manchuria and Russia’s Maritime Province in Siberia were full of Koreans coming back to their hometowns. Busan, Incheon, Gunsan and other port cities were bustling with returnees filled with hope.
The overwhelming emotions and hopes that were felt on Liberation Day are still a part of our future. The hearts of all our people swelled with the vision of building a new nation. Fathers and mothers dedicated their lives to securing an education for their children. There had been 1.45 million primary, middle and high school students across the country at that time, but just two years after liberation, the number increased more than 60 percent to 2.35 million. People’s ardent zeal for education drove the country to introduce compulsory education. Talented individuals became the growth engines of the Republic of Korea.
Agricultural production also rose significantly. Crop yields, which had been suppressed due to pillage from imperial Japan, surged after farmland reforms. Around the 1970s, they showed a three-fold increase from the Japanese colonial period, finally making it possible to end our recurring periods of scarce food.
The people’s determination to “be well off,” which sprang from the 1960s’ five-year Economic Development Plans, led to the Socioeconomic Development Plan and New Economic Plan and fostered the IT industry as well as green growth and the creative economy. It has served as the foundation for Korea to emerge as one of the world’s 10 largest economic powerhouses. The country’s per capita GDP surpassed US$30,000 in 2017 and also overtook that of a G7 member state last year.
Self-reliant national defense has been our desperate dream for the past century. Upholding the spirit of the independence armies and the Korean Liberation Army, our Army has grown into a cutting-edge, formidable military force that has deployed the world-class K2 Black Panther tank, K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer and K21 infantry fighting vehicle. Our Navy, founded with patrol boats and rusted battleships abandoned by the Japanese military, has become an oceangoing navy that has commissioned some 150 naval vessels in total, including 19 submarines and nine destroyers – some of which are armed with the Aegis Weapon System. Our Air Force had only 20 light aircraft back in 1949, but it has become only the eighth air force in the world to independently develop an advanced supersonic fighter jet – the KF-21 – and is soaring into space as a mighty air force. Now, Korea is the 6th strongest military powerhouse in the 2021 Global Firepower ranking. To prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and new security environment in the space era, we are building defense capabilities that no one dare challenge.
Korean independence movement leader Kim Gu, pen name Baekbeom, envisioned “a state with a highly developed culture.” Today, his aspiration is being fulfilled on the global stage through our culture and arts. BTS recently became the first band to replace itself at the top of the Billboard chart with a new single. The film “Parasite” won the top prize at Cannes and multiple Oscars at the Academy Awards. Actress Youn Yuh-jung won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Not only K-pop and our movies but also games, TV dramas, webtoons, animation and content in various other fields are loved around the world. Annual content exports broke the US$10 billion mark for the first time last year. The high caliber of our culture and arts are not limited to modern and popular genres. Our culture and arts figures have made remarkable achievements even in such traditional fields as classical music and ballet. Embracing traditional and modern elements harmoniously, they have achieved such feats through creativity and passion. These accomplishments represent the potential of the Korean people who love culture and the arts.
We have always had new dreams. We have been able to come this far as we have not lost those dreams. Our dreams for independence, liberty and decent lives set the country free. This past June, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development unanimously agreed to upgrade the status of Korea to an advanced economy, the first time ever for a developing nation. As we have now become an advanced country, we have yet another dream: to become a peaceful, dignified advanced nation and to become a country that fulfills its fair share of duties within the international community.
We have pioneered a path that had never been traveled. Emerging from colonial rule and third-world status, we have forged a new model of success for developing economies. Our most unique and greatest strength lies in the fact that we can share our growth experience with developing countries. In confronting the raging challenges posed by COVID-19, we have demonstrated the power of our people’s strong sense of community, giving the world an example of how to overcome crises.
We have inherited from our ancestors the resilient power of mutual benefit and cooperation. Even after suffering humiliation, discrimination, violence and exploitation under colonial rule, our forebears opted to embrace rather than retaliate against the Japanese still in our newly liberated country. We have always come together with one mind to fulfill our dreams. We have banded together even more tightly in the face of a crisis. We have turned countless crises into opportunities while empowering one another. The power of working together for mutual benefit will enable us to move toward new dreams and take the lead in the post-COVID-19 era.
The country that all of our people envisioned through the candlelight revolution was “a properly functioning country” and “a country where everyone prospers.” We are expanding basic labor rights by implementing the 52-hour workweek system, raising the minimum wage and ratifying key ILO conventions. By increasing the number of employment insurance subscribers, raising senior citizens’ basic pension, strengthening the coverage of health insurance and implementing a national system that cares for dementia patients, we are enhancing the inclusiveness of our society.
When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis – compared to any other advanced nation – our country is overcoming it in a stable manner. We will also surely prevail over this fourth wave fueled by the spread of the Delta variant. The inoculation is also approaching its target. In October, 70 percent of the total population will have received their second shots, and vaccination rate targets will be raised once more.
We will recover together and leap forward together. Extensive compensation will be provided to cover COVID-19-related damage to microbusiness owners, and everything possible will be done to create decent jobs and increase employment opportunities for the vulnerable. We will expand the living allowance support for low-income families to achieve an inclusive recovery that reduces disparities.
The world order is taking shape anew. At this critical watershed in history, the Republic of Korea is facing an opportunity to move toward a pacesetting country. A pacesetting economy uses creative ideas as its core competitiveness, and its growth pivots around people.
The number of unicorn companies increased to 15 last year, and venture investments in the first half of this year reached a record high. As such, the second venture boom is spreading. Having claimed the top spot in global shipbuilding orders and become one of the top five automobile manufacturers in the world, our country has built on its success with memory semiconductors and has also been performing well in the system semiconductors market as well as those for batteries and biohealth. Amid this process, exports are setting new records. The Government will make our economy stronger by instilling the values of innovation, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.
The Korean New Deal, through which a total of 220 trillion won will be invested by 2025, is both a roadmap for moving toward a people-centered, innovative and inclusive country and a national development strategy to achieve a new leap forward. In addition to the Korean New Deal’s Digital and Green New Deals, the Government has erected yet another support pillar: the Human New Deal. We will knit the social safety net more tightly – for instance, by introducing universal employment insurance and completely abolishing mandatory family support requirements – and spearhead the digital and green transitions through investments in people. We will provide young people with decent jobs by fostering workforces for such forward-looking sectors as software engineering and artificial intelligence. Our efforts will also focus on ensuring a just transition, so the digital and green transitions leave no one behind.
The vision of balanced national development pursued by my Administration will become a reality through the Regionally Balanced New Deal. We will further strengthen financial decentralization for local areas and reverse the trend toward concentration in the Seoul metropolitan area. This will be made possible by sharing models of successful pan-regional cooperation as with the megacity in southeastern Korea. The economy is showing a fast and strong recovery, but its warmth has yet to reach many areas. By sharing the benefits of the economic recovery with all of our people, we will ensure that the vision of a country where everyone prospers becomes a tangible reality.
Becoming a dignified advanced country begins with a culture of respect and consideration. We should move forward, one step closer to a society of inclusiveness and tolerance, not discrimination and exclusion. When we show consideration for the socially disadvantaged as well as acknowledge and respect the differences in each other’s positions and thoughts, our society will be able to move closer to being a dignified and respected advanced country.
In the process of emerging as an advanced country, we have been practicing the spirit of mutual benefit and cooperation across borders. By embracing market opening and trading nation status, Korea has become one of the world’s seven largest exporters and contributed to the development of the global economy. Since the inauguration, my Administration has expanded the scope of cooperation by signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and concluding FTAs with Indonesia, Cambodia and Israel.
If the world does not work together, we cannot prevail over COVID-19 and surmount the climate crisis. The Republic of Korea will serve as a bridging nation that spearheads mutually beneficial cooperation between advanced and developing countries.
The Republic of Korea has been invited to the G7 Summit for two years in a row, which signifies the start of a new world order. Building upon capabilities nurtured through openness and cooperation, we will actively contribute to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis as well as to establishing a peaceful order and the reconstruction of the global economy in the post-COVID-19 era. In particular, we will take the lead in creating value and order in the new era based on our experience with economic growth – having moved from a developing to an advanced country – and the soft power amassed through Hallyu and Korea’s response to COVID-19.
First, our country will become a vaccine hub. We will use our biopharmaceutical production capacity – the second largest in the world – and the Korea-U.S. global vaccine partnership to take the lead in overcoming crises from infectious diseases that all of humanity faces. On the 5th of this month, a committee was launched to hasten our becoming a global vaccine hub. It will play a pivotal role by providing intensive support for developing and supplying the raw and processed materials needed for vaccines. The Government will join the efforts of businesses to put the first homegrown vaccine on the market before the end of the first half next year.
Second, we will further enhance our role in the global supply chain. With semiconductors and batteries – industries where Korea has unmatched competitiveness – we can contribute to supply chain stability worldwide. We will solidify our position as a leading international base by making current technological gaps even wider.
Third, we will fulfill our responsibilities as needed to tackle the climate crisis. Last year, we set out to achieve a new milestone by declaring “2050 Carbon Neutrality.” This goal was made possible thanks to people voluntarily working for the environment and businesses actively seeking management guided by ESG best practices. With the 2050 Carbon Neutrality plan announced on August 5, the Government will fulfill its responsibilities as a member of the international community by canvassing public opinion broadly and pledging feasible greenhouse gas reductions within this year through a 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution.
Achieving 2050 carbon neutrality will by no means be easy, but it should not be perceived merely as a burden. This grand, global socioeconomic transformation toward carbon neutrality will bring unprecedented innovations and create numerous jobs. This is also a golden opportunity for us to leap forward as a pacesetting nation. The Government has nurtured eco-friendly vehicles, batteries and the hydrogen economy as future growth engines. We are expanding such new and renewable energy power generation as solar and offshore wind power while reducing coal’s role in our power mix. We will take the initiative in our transitioning to a low-carbon economy by focusing on the fields in which we currently lead.
The scope of international solidarity and cooperation will also be expanded. In particular, we will assist energy transitions among developing countries that are highly dependent on coal to generate power and share green technologies and knowledge gained from our Green New Deal.
On August 16, 1945, the day after our liberation, Ahn Jae-hong – a nation leader – gave a speech broadcast to 30 million Koreans. Then vice chairman of the Preparatory Committee for National Construction, Ahn proposed that defeated Japan and liberated Korea move toward an equal and mutually beneficial relationship. It is truly a bold and inclusive sense of history that transcends the victim mentality of the colonized. National consciousness was heightened to the fullest after liberation, but we did not drift toward an exclusive or hostile form of nationalism.
Pursuing world peace and happiness for all people, moving beyond Asia, is the spirit of the March First Independence Movement. This is the great founding spirit that the Provisional Republic of Korea Government and its liberated people practiced. The Republic of Korea has consistently upheld that spirit. Since normalizing diplomatic relations, Korea and Japan have long been able to achieve economic growth together through a division of labor and cooperation based on the common shared values of democracy and a market economy. This is the direction our two countries should continue to go in, moving forward together.
Our Government has always kept the door open for dialogue to jointly respond not only to our two countries’ pending issues but also threats facing the world, including COVID-19 and the climate crisis. For historical issues that need to be rectified, we will resolve them through actions and practices that are consistent with universal values and the standards of the international community. I look forward to our two countries gathering wisdom and surmounting difficulties together, setting an example of the cooperation expected between neighbors.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of South and North Korea’s joint accession to the United Nations. One year before that, in 1990, East and West Germany achieved unification after 45 years of division. East and West Germany built trust by exchanging good faith and intentions. They created a “German model” that pursues universalism, pluralism, coexistence and co-prosperity. Moreover, by overcoming neighboring countries’ concerns about their unification through sincere reflection on the past, Germany has become a pacesetting country in the European Union, a leader championing universal values and standards shared globally.
Division is the biggest obstacle blocking our growth and prosperity and simultaneously a tenacious barrier to permanent peace. Like Germany, we can also remove this barrier. Although unification may take some more time, we can create a Korean Peninsula model in which the two Koreas coexist and contribute to the prosperity of Northeast Asia as a whole through denuclearization and permanent peace on the Peninsula.
The Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health is now discussing sharing information and cooperating on projects such as the joint stockpiling of medical and epidemic prevention supplies and joint training of personnel to respond to COVID-19. Since COVID-19 is now clearly not a temporary threat, the importance of such cooperation has become all the more significant. While expanding cooperation, we will work hard to ensure that North Korea, a member of the East Asian community of life, can participate as well.
Firmly institutionalizing peace on the Korean Peninsula will definitely benefit both Koreas greatly. Most of all, the advantages that the Republic of Korea would be able to enjoy will be enormous once we shake off the so-called Korea discount and connect to the continent rather than exist as a virtual island nation. If we tirelessly envision peace on the Korean Peninsula, our imaginations can reach beyond it and spread across Eurasia. If we do not stop striving for reconciliation and cooperation, that tenacious barrier will finally crumble and new hopes and prosperity beyond our dreams will begin.
decorated independence activities,
relatives of those departed, and all Koreans living abroad,
Despite colonization and the ruins of war, we have held onto our passion and dream for a better future. We have taken steps to become a country that has proudly advanced, a country that prospers with its neighbors and a country that prevails over division and pursues peace.
Anyone who travels abroad would be able to sense that others have a much higher opinion of us than we have of ourselves. The international community is amazed at the Republic of Korea’s capabilities and achievements in many fields, including the economy, epidemic prevention and control, democracy, culture and the arts. We are not the Republic of Korea of the past. It is our turn to be proud of ourselves and dream once more. I hope that all of our people will move forward together toward that vision.
I pay homage with all my heart to our forebears who have bequeathed a great legacy – a strong will for freedom and peace, a dedication to community and solidarity and cooperation.