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Address at the 16th Inaugural
President of the Republic of Korea
My fellow Koreans,
Today I stand here having just been sworn in as the President of the Republic of Korea in the 16th inaugural ceremony. As a result of the great choice of a people, I have been given the honored responsibility of presiding over the new Administration of the Republic. I am very grateful to each and every one of you; with your support, I promise to fulfill this great call to duty.
Present here today are President Kim Dae-jung and other former Presidents of the Republic, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, congratulatory missions from many countries and numerous distinguished guests from home and abroad. I offer my deepest thanks to you all.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of the recent subway fire disaster in Daegu and offer my condolences to the bereaved families. To prevent any recurrence of such a tragedy, the Government will reexamine and drastically improve the disaster management systems throughout the nation and strive to ensure enhanced public safety.
Historically, we Koreans have lived through a series of challenges and have responded to them. Having to live among big powers, the people on the Korean Peninsula have had to cope with countless tribulations. For thousands of years, however, we have successfully preserved our self-respect as a nation as well as our unique culture. Within the half century since liberation from colonial rule, and despite territorial division, war, and poverty, we have built a nation that is the 12th largest economic power in the world.
In recent years, we have successfully entered the age of information and knowledge, evolving from an agricultural community through the age of industrialization. Today, however, we are at a historical turning point. We are at a crossroad of having to decide whether to take off or retreat; to move toward peace or tension. The international security environment is rather unsettling. The Iraqi situation is extremely tense. In particular, global concern is rising over the North Korean nuclear issue. This is the time to make a determined effort to safeguard peace and have it firmly rooted on the peninsula.
The international economic situation is also deteriorating. Developed nations are incessantly exploring new frontiers and new markets while developing countries are rapidly closing in. Our nation, therefore, is in urgent need of a new economic growth engine and viable development strategies.
At the same time, we are also encountering diverse social problems that may have great impact on our destiny. They are waiting for your determination and wise decisions.
We must cope with all these challenges. I know we can do it. Nothing is impossible when the whole nation joins forces. We demonstrated our remarkable potential and recovered in record time from the major foreign exchange crisis that hit many Asian countries. Just last year, we succeeded in reaching the semi-finals in the FIFA World Cup. And, throughout the process of the presidential election, we saw participatory democracy fully blossom.
In this new age, our future can no longer be confined to the Korean Peninsula. The Age of Northeast Asia is fast approaching. Northeast Asia, which used to be on the periphery of the modern world, is now emerging as a new source of energy in the global economy. Renowned international scholars have long predicted that the 21st century would be the Age of Northeast Asia and their predictions are coming true. Business transactions in the region already represent one fifth of global volume and the combined population of Korea, China, and Japan is four times larger than that of the European Union.
The Korean Peninsula is located at the heart of the region. It is a big bridge linking China and Japan, the continent and the ocean. Such a geopolitical characteristic often caused pain for us in the past. Today, however, this same feature is offering us an opportunity. Indeed, it demands that we play a pivotal role in the Age of Northeast Asia in the 21st century.
Korea is endowed with highly creative and well-educated people as well as a state-of-the-art information infrastructure. Logistics bases are being perfected on land and sea and in the air as seen in the up-to-date facilities at Incheon International Airport, Busan and Gwangyang Ports, and the projected super-speed railway systems. The country is being equipped with all the basic requirements necessary to lead the Age of Northeast Asia in the 21st century. The country is well poised to emerge as an international logistics and financial hub in Northeast Asia.
Initially, the dawn of the Age of Northeast Asia will come from the economic field. Nations of the region will first form a "community of prosperity," and through it, contribute to the prosperity of all humanity and, in time, should evolve into a "community of peace." For a long time, I had a dream of seeing a regional community of peace and coprosperity in Northeast Asia like the European Union. The Age of Northeast Asia will then finally come to full fruition. I pledge to devote my whole heart and efforts to bringing about that day at the earliest possible time.
In order to bring about a genuine Age of Northeast Asia, a structure of peace must first be institutionalized on the Korean Peninsula. It certainly is most unfortunate that the peninsula still remains the last legacy of the Cold War of the 20th century. In the 21st century, we have to change the peninsula into a land that sends out messages of peace to the rest of the world. It has to be reborn as East Asia's gateway of peace that connects the Eurasian landmass with the Pacific Ocean. We have to soon bring the day when passengers will be able to buy a train ticket in Busan and travel all the way to Paris in the heart of Europe via Pyongyang, Shinuiju and the many cities in China, Mongolia and Russia.
So far, we have made great efforts to promote peace in the land and the results have been remarkable. Exchanges of people and merchandise between the two Koreas are taking place routinely, almost on a daily basis. Inter-Korean travel routes are open on land and sea and in the air. In this process, however, we have come to learn that we need to pursue North Korea policies based on a broader national consensus. While trying to build on the good results reaped so far and to bring further progress, I intend to improve on the way the policies are actually implemented.
I have several principles that I plan to adhere to in pushing the "policy for peace and prosperity" on the Korean Peninsula. First, I will try to resolve all pending issues through dialogue. Second, I will give priority to building mutual trust and upholding reciprocity. Third, I will seek active international cooperation on the premise that South and North Korea are the two main actors in inter-Korean relations. And fourth, I will enhance transparency, expand citizen participation, and secure bipartisan support. I will implement my policy for peace and prosperity with the support of the general public.
The suspicion that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons poses a grave threat to world peace, not to mention the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. North Korea's nuclear development can never be condoned. Pyongyang must abandon nuclear development. If it renounces its nuclear development program, the international community will offer many things that it wants. It is up to Pyongyang whether to go ahead and obtain nuclear weapons or to get guarantees for the security of its regime and international economic support.
I would like to emphasize again that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Military tension in any form should not be heightened. We will strengthen coordination with the United States and Japan to help resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue. We will also maintain close cooperation with China, Russia, the European Union and other countries.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Korea-U.S. Alliance. It has made a significant contribution in guaranteeing our security and economic development. The Korean people are deeply grateful for this. We will foster and develop this cherished alliance. We will see to it that the alliance matures into a more reciprocal and equitable relationship. We will also expand relations with other countries, including traditional friends.
Our society must remain healthy and future-oriented if we are to build a structure of peace on the Korean Peninsula and usher in the era of Northeast Asia. We must build strength and maintain vision. That requires inexorable efforts for reform and integration. Reform is a driving force behind growth, and integration is a steppingstone for a takeoff.
On the basis of reform and integration, the new Administration will pursue democracy with the people, build a society of balanced development and open an era of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. To achieve these goals, I have set the following tenets for the operation of the new Administration. They are principle and trust, transparency and fairness, dialogue and compromise, and decentralization and autonomy.
We should create new driving forces for fresh growth in each sector. The various factors that caused the foreign currency crisis are still around for us to overcome. I want to make the country a favorable place to do business in and an attractive place in which to invest by reforming the markets and systems in a fair and transparent manner based on international standards.
The first order of business is to reform politics. We have to realize politics that respect our citizens as a genuine source of power. We should nurture a political climate in which the well-being of the people takes precedence over partisan interests. I hope to see the kind of political culture prevail that solves problems through dialogue and compromise, not through confrontation and conflict. I, myself, will pursue dialogue and compromise with the opposition parties.
I will help the rebirth of our country by promoting uninterrupted innovation in science and technology. I will promote the continued expansion of the infrastructure for a knowledge and information society and cultivate new industries. I will promote culture and extend active support for the progress of culture industries.
Education should also be renovated commensurate with these national goals. We will try to free our children from the yoke of entrance examinations and allow them to display their talents and creativity to the fullest possible extent.
Irregularities and corruption must be eliminated not only for the sustained growth of the economy but also for the health of society. For this purpose, I will search for a structural and institutional alternative. In particular, I ask all leaders in society to seriously reflect on themselves.
For the future of the country, the centralization and concentration in the Seoul metropolitan area can no longer be left unattended. Decentralization of power to the provinces and balanced national development have become tasks that cannot be put off any longer. The central and the provincial parts of the country should be developed in a harmonious and balanced manner. The provinces should design their own future autonomously, and the central part should help them out. I will press ahead with the task with unusual resolve.
National integration is the most important tasks of our times. My new Administration will take all possible measures to eliminate parochialism, including personnel management without regional consideration. In order to narrow the gap between different income brackets, I will review improvement measures in terms of benefits in education and tax systems. I will do my best to ensure labor-management conciliation and nurture a culture of cooperation.
We should try to build a compassionate society that pays more attention to the disaffected, including senior citizens and those who are challenged in various ways. For this purpose, I will try to improve our welfare policy. I will eliminate all kinds of unreasonable discrimination. I will pursue a gender-equal society. In this age of liberalization, I will develop measures to help agriculture and fisheries, farmers and fishermen. I will make particular preparations for the arrival of a "silver society."
The time when privileges and violations of rules are tolerated must now come to an end. The preposterous climate in which justice is ignored and opportunism prevails must be cleaned up. Let us establish right principles and build a society of trust. Let us build a society in which those who work hard are justly assured of success. Rewards should go to the majority of honest and sincere citizens.
For a long period of time, we have lived on the periphery. At times, we were forced to go through a history of dependence, unable to determine our own destiny. But, today we are at the threshold of a new turning point. Opportunity has come for us to take off as the hub of Northeast Asia. We should seize this opportunity.
We have overcome numerous challenges with inner strength. We have the wisdom to turn even crisis into opportunity. With such wisdom and strength, let us again overcome the challenge facing us today. Let us make future generations remember us as proud ancestors as, today, we remember our forefathers.
We are a people who can bring about miracles if united. Let us all pull together with all our hearts. I invite you all to join this historic march and make a new takeoff toward an age of peace and prosperity. I will always stand with you all.