Fellow Koreans, decorated independence activists, bereaved relatives of those departed and Korean compatriots abroad,
As we mark the 75th Liberation Day, we contemplate the noble sacrifice and spirit of our patriotic forebears who gave their all to achieve our nation’s independence.
Today’s celebration began by welcoming the surviving patriots who dedicated themselves to the cause of independence. Patriot Lim Wu-cheol is 101 years old, and the other three are almost centenarians as well. Any effort to honor them will pale in comparison to the Republic of Korea’s proud progress and esteem that every one of them helped to accomplish.
There are now only 31 surviving patriotic independence activists. I would like to ask everyone to vigorously applaud those patriots here with us: Lim Wu-cheol, Kim Yeong-gwan, Lee Yeong-su and Jang Byeong-ha to express our deepest respect and gratitude. Their valued presence makes this event all the more meaningful.
Our liberation was obtained by each and every Korean rising together as the rightful owners of a democratic republic. All of those who have achieved accomplishments big and small as masters of their own lives comprise the roots of what we are today.
Our forebears left us a conviction that has formed an immense root of our history: “If we unite, we can prevail over any crisis.” In the process of overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been able to reaffirm our capabilities while surmounting the crisis together.
Presently, massive natural disasters caused by abnormal weather conditions are threatening our everyday lives yet again. Nonetheless, we will certainly prevail over them this time as we always have. I extend my profound sympathy to everyone who has suffered damage from these catastrophes, most of all to those who lost what is most precious – life itself. We will confront disasters until they are over in order to protect the lives and property of the people. We will also do as much as we can for disaster recovery. Moreover, in preparation for extreme weather becoming increasingly severe, we will muster all available capabilities to safeguard the people’s safety, thereby sparing them from repeated suffering.
I salute the decorated independence activists and bereaved families who have become a source of pride for the Republic of Korea. I promise that with the people we will weather today’s crisis and calamities without fail.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where we are gathered today, is built upon the site of the Joseon Dynasty’s Military Training Command and installations. Gyeongseong Stadium was built here during the Japanese colonial period and was renamed Seoul Stadium after liberation. Numerous sweat-stained historic chapters have been recorded on this site, which was long referred to as Dongdaemun Stadium.
Among these, the beads of sweat shed by young Joseon marathoner Sohn Kee-chung under colonial rule must be remembered as the most ardent and regrettable. In 1935, he broke away from a field of runners in a 10,000 meter race at Gyeongseong Stadium and won. The next year, he set a world record while winning the marathon at the Berlin Olympics. As the Japanese national anthem began to play during the award ceremony, Olympic gold medalist Sohn Kee-chung hid the Japanese flag on his chest with the laurel sapling presented to him. The Korean Olympian Nam Seung-yong, who won bronze in that marathon, could only hang his head and close his eyes. They pulled off a great victory that helped restore Korean pride, but they had no country upon which to bestow that glory.
Our independence movement involved reclaiming the country and, at the same time, upholding the dignity of individuals. We simultaneously achieved independence and a revolution to establish a democratic republic based on popular sovereignty. Our efforts to create a dignified country that will never again lose to anyone have never ceased even after liberation.
From being the most impoverished country to receive international aid, we have soared to become one of the 10 largest global economic powerhouses. In the face of dictatorship, we left the world a milestone for democracy. Though we endured a period when individual sacrifices were demanded and human rights were oppressed in the name of the state, we have never stopped marching toward a properly functioning country where each citizen is guaranteed inherent rights for freedom, equality, dignity and safety.
Our people have withstood many crises. We rose from the ashes of war and overcame the Asian foreign exchange and global financial crises. Together, we have also surmounted the crisis prompted by Japan’s export restrictions. We have actually turned that into an opportunity to leap forward as a nation that cannot be shaken. Mutually beneficial cooperation between large businesses and SMEs has led to independence in the production of materials, parts and equipment. Some of these ventures have even attracted foreign investors.
We have also overcome the COVID-19 crisis through the Government, individuals, medical professionals and business leaders trusting and relying on one another.
The Government has transparently disclosed all the information needed for epidemic prevention and control. The people trust the Government’s approach and have voluntarily become the principal agents in anti-epidemic efforts. Korean businesses developed the first fast and accurate COVID-19 test kit in the world. Workers have produced epidemic prevention supplies, putting their neighbors first. Medical staff, volunteers, the public and businesses brought together their respective efforts, creating a catalyst for overcoming the COVID-19 crisis and setting an example lauded by the entire world.
However, we are in a situation that requires yet an even higher level of alertness. The Government will do everything possible until the situation is over to protect the people from the virus, including the securing of vaccines and early development of treatments. Our successful epidemic prevention and control – free of border closures, regional lockdowns and an economic shutdown – has helped our economy fare well. Thanks to this success, the Government’s rapid countermeasures to revive the economy through expansionary spending have been effective.
Amid the global economic crisis, Korea’s economic growth this year is projected to rank first among the 37 OECD member states. Our GDP is also forecast to join the ranks of the 10 largest economies in the world. I cannot but extend my respect and gratitude to our people once again, who are turning crises into opportunities even while enduring great suffering.
We have now affirmed the fact that our neighbors’ safety equals our own and are preparing for a post-COVID-19 era. While bringing implementation of the Korean New Deal into full gear, we will reform and upgrade our economic fundamentals – employing the Digital New Deal and the Green New Deal as our wings. From a fast follower-type economy to a pace-setting one and from a carbon-dependent economy to a low-carbon one, we will fundamentally transform the Republic of Korea and once again leap forward.
The spirit that permeates the core of the Korean New Deal is also people-centered mutual benefit. A new social contract for mutual benefit, the Korean New Deal is also a pledge to achieve and share prosperity together by further strengthening the employment and social safety nets and increasing investments in people.
What matters the most is to reduce gaps and inequality. Only when everyone is living well can we say that genuine liberation has been achieved. I believe that the people will join us on the path toward sustainable development for both their own benefit as well as that of future generations.
In the winter of 2016, squares and streets throughout the country were filled with the spirit of Article 1 of the Constitution: All state authority shall emanate from the people. Our people held aloft lit candles and once more etched onto the chapters of history the fact that the power to change the world always rests with them. That spirit became the foundation of our Administration.
Today, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Liberation Day, I look back to see whether each individual really has achieved liberation. And I think of a country that exists to guarantee individuals’ decent lives – not one where individuals exist for it. This is also about an era marked by Article 10 of the Constitution: All citizens shall be assured of human value and dignity and have the right to pursue happiness. This is the goal that my Administration is aiming to achieve.
To date, the Government has solidified our practical foundation of freedom and equality. While people exert individuality and ability to the fullest thanks to the social safety net and security in their daily lives, we have also made efforts to build a nation where individual achievements are respected by everyone.
I do not believe that we can achieve all of these tasks before the end of my Administration. However, we will give people the firm belief that our society is heading in that direction and do all we can to build a solid foundation.
We remember our compatriots who emigrated from the Empire of Korea to work in Hawaii and Mexico but could not return as they lost their homeland. We must never forget that tearful history. Although the motherland could not protect its people, they collected wages from labor and spoonfuls of rice to fund the Provisional Republic of Korea Government’s independence movement. As such, they became a root of the overseas independence movement. We must remember forever those who were never able to return to the arms of their families in a liberated homeland. We must ask whether the country did its due then and is doing so now for its people.
The Republic of Korea has grown enough and possesses enough confidence to ensure that not even a single citizen is ever abandoned again.
On April 30, 2018, three Korean sailors who were kidnapped in waters off Ghana returned to their homeland along with the Cheonghae unit aboard the destroyer that rescued them, the ROKS Munmu the Great. Also rescued safely were Koreans kidnapped by armed assailants in Libya in July 2018 and five crew members abducted in waters off Benin, West Africa, in July 2020.
Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, we dispatched military aircraft to Iraq and brought back 293 Korean workers. Charter flights, military aircraft and even a presidential airplane were mobilized to help 2,000 Koreans return home safely from seven countries under serious threats from the spreading virus. The Government has safely evacuated over 46,000 Korean expatriates from 119 countries through charter flights. It was deeply meaningful to mark the centennials of the March First Independence Movement and the establishment of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government last year by repatriating the remains of five decorated independence activists. We as a nation must also respond without fail to the efforts of individuals to prove their own dignity and pool our wisdom to find ways to devise solutions.
In 2005, four victims of forced labor filed a damage suit against Japanese companies that mobilized Korean workers in the colonial period. In 2018, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled in their favor.
Although the Supreme Court acknowledged the validity of the 1965 Claims Agreement between Korea and Japan, it ruled that the right of an individual to claim damages against unlawful acts had never been waived. A Supreme Court ruling has the highest legal authority and executory power within the Republic of Korea. My Administration respects the judiciary’s decision, and we have been engaging in consultations with the Japanese Government on how to reach a satisfactory resolution to which the victims could agree. The door for such consultations remains wide open. My Administration is ready to sit down with the Japanese Government at any time to discuss these issues.
Three of the plaintiffs have already passed away. When Japan’s export restriction measures were put in place last year, Lee Chun-sik, now the sole surviving plaintiff, wondered out loud whether the Republic of Korea was “suffering a loss” because of him. We will affirm the fact that protecting an individual’s dignity will never end up incurring a loss for his country.
At the same time, we will work with Japan to protect universal values of humanity, the principles of international law and democracy based on the separation of powers.
I believe that joint efforts by Japan and Korea to respect individual human rights will become a bridge for friendship and future cooperation between the peoples of our two countries.
Dongdaemun Stadium is a place imbued with both the joy of liberation and the pain of inter-Korean division.
On December 19, 1945, a national ceremony to welcome the Provisional Republic of Korea Government was held here. That day, independence activist Kim Gu – pen name Baekbeom – called on the public to “Let the entire Korean people unite and build a new Korea of self-reliance, equality and happiness.”
However, on July 5, 1949, our people had to bid him a tearful farewell, as one million mourners gathered here. Kim Gu dreamed of completing the liberation of Korea that was left unfinished due to the division by bringing about the unification of the Korean Peninsula. That dream has become a task for all of us who remain.
Genuine liberation can be achieved when the dreams and lives of each and every one of us are guaranteed on a unified, peaceful and safe Korean Peninsula. The reason we pursue peace and promote inter-Korean cooperation is to ensure that the people of the two Koreas can live together, safe and well.
We have awakened to the fact that everyone’s health and safety are closely connected as we fight infectious diseases in livestock and the COVID-19 pandemic while enduring unprecedented downpours triggered by extreme weather. The fact that South and North Korea are one community when it comes to life and safety has been confirmed repeatedly.
Security and peace in this era are about guaranteeing the life and safety of everyone living on the Korean Peninsula. I hope that cooperation on epidemic prevention and control and the joint management of transboundary rivers will help the people of the two Koreas sense tangible benefits from peace. It is my hope that along with communities for peace and economic prosperity, there will be a breakthrough for mutual benefit and peace to achieve a community for life. This should accompany closer cooperation on a new security situation in the COVID-19 era through collaboration on healthcare, medical services and forestry and joint research on agricultural technology and the development of new crop varieties.
Along with humanitarian cooperation for the life and safety of the people, working together to allow them to meet whomever they want and visit wherever they want before they die is practical inter-Korean collaboration. Inter-Korean cooperation is indeed the best security policy that allows both Koreas to break away from reliance on nuclear or military strength. The stronger inter-Korean cooperation grows, the more solid the security of each Korea will be. This will in turn become a force that moves us toward prosperity in cooperation with the international community.
As agreed upon in the Panmunjom Declaration, we will permanently remove the threat of war and build the foundation of genuine liberation that our forebears dreamed of. The two Koreas conducted a joint survey of and even held a groundbreaking ceremony for the reconnection of inter-Korean railways. It is the key driving force to expand future inter-Korean cooperation into the continent. We will move toward a Korean Peninsula of peace and common prosperity while examining and implementing every single aspect of agreements already reached between the two Koreas.
Fellow Koreans, decorated independence activists, bereaved relatives and overseas Koreans,
Here are our beliefs: sacrifice for our country will be remembered, our county will assure safety in the face of disasters and catastrophes, it will save us when we suffer hardships in a foreign land, it will attend to each individual’s difficulty and it will guarantee an opportunity to carry on even after a setback.
These beliefs allow individuals to take on new challenges and endure hardships. When a country lives up to these beliefs, individuals – not just a nation – will be liberated.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza is embedded with the sweat and smoldering frustration of a marathoner in the colonial era, the joy of liberation and lament over national division. Today, upon such historical strata, the creativity and individuality of each person is blossoming fully.
Beyond the path to this democratic republic initiated a century ago, we will move with the people toward a Republic of Korea brimming with individual freedom and equality. Beyond the self-reliant independent country that our forebears envisioned, we will move toward a peaceful, prosperous and unified Korean Peninsula with the people.