The New Year, the Year of the White Rat, has dawned.
We rang out the significant past year that marked the centennial of the March First Independence Movement and the founding of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government and have rung in this year that commemorates the 60th anniversary of the April 19 Revolution and the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Democratization Movement. All the while, we contemplate the noble spirit that drove us to hold up candles and safeguard the democratic republic three years ago.
At the behest of the stern mandate of the people to create a just, safe and happier country that is more peaceful and functions properly, my Administration has opted for bold transformations. By fundamentally changing and reforming economic and social structures, we have unwaveringly worked to eradicate deceit and unfair privileges rampant in our society and overcome inequality and socio-economic polarization.
Many people have joined us along this untrodden path. Thanks to those lending support while enduring inconveniences and difficulties, the Government has been able to firmly build the framework for a country where everyone prospers together and an innovative, inclusive nation.
I am deeply grateful to the people who have done their utmost in their respective positions. I will ensure that their hard work will be rewarded with tangible changes throughout the year.
The year 2020 will be one when my life and those of my neighbors will all see improvements and the economy will come roaring back vibrantly and make a leap forward. To this end, we will make sure that people can truly feel tangible changes in terms of inclusiveness, innovation and fairness.
More than anything else, we will ensure that inclusiveness reaches every corner of our society in order to care for the lives of the people with greater compassion.
People’s lives are based around jobs. Last year, the Government injected the largest-ever funding for job creation. Support for providing jobs tailored to the different needs of young people, women and senior citizens was enhanced. Multi-dimensional policy efforts were exerted to create jobs in the private sector.
As a result, there has been an appreciable recovery in jobs. Last year, the number of new hires increased by 280,000, marking the highest-ever employment rate. In addition, the youth employment rate posted a 13-year high. The number of permanent jobs surged drastically, thereby adding more than 500,000 employment insurance subscribers. The quality of employment also improved as evidenced by the narrowing of wage disparity between large businesses and SMEs.
This year, we will further promote these positive trends. In particular, we will work to address sluggish employment in manufacturing and among those in their 40s, who serve as the backbone of the Korean economy. Comprehensive measures customized to retirees and job seekers in their 40s will be put in place, and deregulation and investment incentives intended to encourage the private sector to generate more jobs will be strengthened.
A parental leave that both mothers and fathers can take at the same time will be introduced to create a condition conducive to raising children while working. Moreover, we will facilitate the entry of women, young people and the elderly into the labor market through policies that provide subsidies to SMEs that hire additional young employees and to businesses that prolong the employment of those who reach the retirement age of 60.
At the same time, we will move one step closer to a society where labor is respected. In order to make the leap to a developed country in name and substance, we should have people-centered creativity and innovation as well as advanced labor-management relations – not low wages and long working hours – serve as the source of our competitiveness.
The Government has made efforts to upgrade workers’ quality of life by means of reducing working hours and raising minimum-wage levels. Consequently, the country’s average annual hours worked fell below 2,000 hours for the first time since such statistics began to be compiled, and the proportion of low-wage workers dwindled to less than 20 percent as well. The unionization rate hit a record high since 2000, but lost work days due to strikes were at their lowest in two decades. The creation of mutually beneficial local jobs, which started in Gwangju, has spread to Miryang, Daegu, Gumi, Hoengseong and Gunsan.
We will further enhance the perceived benefits that can be readily felt by the people this year. Support will be provided to have the 52-hour workweek take root in SMEs with fewer than 300 employees. Rationality and transparency will be raised when it comes to setting minimum wage levels. The employment safety net will be made even stronger through government-sponsored credit or debit cards to defray job training expenses and through an employment support program – a Korean-style unemployment allowance – designed to provide financial assistance to the marginalized and to help them find jobs. Mutually beneficial local jobs will also continue to be added.
As a result of the inclusiveness policies implemented last year that raised the basic pension and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families, the three major distribution indices – the Gini coefficient, the income quintile ratio and the relative poverty rate – all improved. Household income also rose evenly in all quintiles, and in particular, the income of the first quintile, the poorest 20 percent, showed a marked upward trend.
We will work to bring about more tangible changes this year. By easing the family support obligation rules within the national basic living security system, we will make sure that more households will receive benefits. We will also broaden support for low-income, vulnerable populations by expanding the EITC and increasing the basic pension.
National health insurance coverage will be strengthened and, in particular, the burden of medical expenses incurred by people with serious ailments, marginalized families and children will be drastically lessened so that they can receive treatment without having to worry about their hospital bills.
We will expand free high school education, which started to benefit the graduating third-year students last year, to include those in the second year this year and eventually all students in all grades next year. Student loan interest rates will also be lowered so that everyone will have sufficient access to education.
For the self-employed and microbusiness owners who suffer difficulties, we will further expand support to provide financial assistance and tax incentives as well as to invigorate commercial areas.
In the meantime, we will make a bold paradigm shift in agricultural, fisheries and rural policies. The price of rice stood at around 130,000 won per 80-kg bag in 2016, but it has rebounded to 190,000 won. The average annual income of farm households exceeded 40 million won while that of fishing households surpassed 50 million won. A subsidy system designed to promote the public good will be newly introduced from this year to help stabilize the income of farming and fishing communities. We will also push for adopting a public good-promoting subsidy system exclusively for the fisheries sector.
A safe Republic of Korea is what all the people aspire to. My Administration has implemented three projects aimed at protecting the lives of the people by helping to prevent traffic accidents, industrial accidents and suicides. To address fine dust problems, comprehensive measures have been worked out, including the legislation of a special act.
As a result, the number of deaths from traffic and industrial accidents drastically decreased last year. In addition, the average annual level of fine dust concentration improved.
However, what we have done is still insufficient. There can be no end to the efforts to improve safety.
We will carry out existing policies in a more thorough manner and take all the steps necessary to ensure public safety by adding comprehensive measures for children’s safety.
We will come up with special initiatives in winter and spring when the concentration of fine dust is high and implement stronger preemptive measures by the end of March. We will make palpable changes to air quality through the seasonal management system, the suspension of operations at coal-fired power plants, the restricted driving and eventual retiring of old vehicles, measures to improve air quality by region and the use of eco-friendly fuel in ships. We will also step up coordination and cooperation with China in response to factors outside the country.
Just as Korea took off and joined the ranks of the world’s top dozen economic powerhouses in only a half century, we can also become a leader in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We will help our economy run more vigorously by further strengthening innovation.
Despite the delayed passage last year of bills on innovative growth, the amount of new investment in business ventures broke the 4 trillion won mark, and five new unicorns were created. The release of innovative products and services in the market was accelerated thanks to some 200 special exemptions approved via regulatory sandbox and the designation of 14 special regulation-free zones in different provinces or cities.
With commercialization of 5G services for the first time in the world, the Republic of Korea secured the No. 1 and No. 2 positions in the global handset and equipment markets, respectively. In addition, exports of electric cars more than doubled and those of hydrogen-fueled vehicles tripled. Our efforts aimed at promoting innovation are paying off one by one, with our national competitiveness in the ICT sector being ranked first globally for two years in a row.
This year, we will spread innovation-fueled momentum across the economy. We will support the growth of business ventures to help an increasing number of them emerge as unicorns. We will foster three new industries – system semiconductors, biohealth and future cars – as second and third flagship industries to follow semiconductors. In addition, we’ll expand investments in such sectors as data, networks and artificial intelligence to bolster the foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The application of regulatory sandboxes will be further increased, and we will achieve social compromises through a customized arbitration organization to resolve conflicts among stakeholders in the new industries.
Last year, we were able to confirm the “strength of mutual benefit.” In the face of Japan’s export restrictions, business, labor, the Government and the people all joined forces to localize production of key materials, components and equipment. The whole nation came together to realize the goal of building a country that cannot be shaken. This task had been left undone for several decades; however, we made significant achievements in just half a year.
We are now replacing imports of some key items from Japan through domestic production. With regard to some of these items, we’ve succeeded in attracting foreign investments. This year, the Government will disburse 2.1 trillion won – more than double last year’s figure – in order to strengthen the competitiveness of our materials, components and equipment industries. Furthermore, we’ll designate the top 100 specialized pace-setting companies and 100 small-yet-strong businesses to help them grow into global enterprises, going beyond the localization of production.
We will strive to restore the vitality of our economy and ensure that the people sense tangible changes from an improved economy.
Although the global economy is expected to gradually recover this year and the semiconductor sector is expected to rebound, such external uncertainties as trade conflicts and geopolitical disputes still remain. When it comes to the structure of our economy, we are facing difficulties as the potential growth rate is falling and the working-age population is projected to decrease by 230,000 compared to last year.
However, we will overcome all difficulties. We will strive to bring the numbers tied to exports and investments in equipment back into positive territory so that they can lead to an increase in growth rates.
Last year – in the face of U.S.-China trade tension and the global economic downturn – the Republic of Korea maintained its position as the world’s seventh largest exporter with exports exceeding US$1 trillion for the third year in a row and trade in surplus for the 11th consecutive year. As evidenced by significant export increases for electric cars and hydrogen-fueled vehicles as well as from the biohealth sector, our new export growth engines are making rapid progress. Despite sharp drops in prices, semiconductor exports have increased, which shows that sector’s potential. New Southern Policy partner countries accounted for more than 20 percent of our exports for the first time last year, and exports to countries linked to the New Northern Policy have also witnessed double-digit increases for three years in a row – a reminder of how our country’s exports have been diversified.
This year, we will again increase our total exports and speed up our efforts to innovate the structure of our exports to emerge as one of the world’s four largest exporters by 2030.
While increasing high value-added exports with regard to the three new industries, 5G and rechargeable batteries, we’ll expand new markets, like those within New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy partner countries, by finalizing the RCEP agreement. We will quadruple export financing for SMEs and help them account for a larger share of our exports by utilizing Brand K, the nationally certified trademark associated with the Korean Wave.
We will also make all-out efforts to create a better environment for corporate investments. Large-scale investment projects in the amount of 100 trillion won will be implemented, and we’ll further strengthen such incentives as three tax-benefit packages to promote corporate investment. While pushing ahead with a balanced national development project in earnest, which totals 25 trillion won in 23 programs, we will invest more than 10 trillion won, the largest amount ever, to build neighborhood infrastructure with the aim of improving the quality of life for residents in provincial areas, thereby revitalizing local economies as well. In addition, we will further promote the Korean Wave – K-pop, K-dramas, K-beauty, K-content and K-food – and usher in an era of 20 million foreign tourists visiting Korea.
Fairness is like the air surrounding our economy and society. Only when fairness serves as the foundation can our economic community breathe and innovation and inclusiveness be possible.
Recently, we’ve been witnessing gradual progress in the fair economy. The issue of large business groups’ cross-shareholdings has been nearly resolved, and unfair trade practices in contractor-subcontractor relations, franchiser-franchisee relations and the retail industry have been significantly rectified. A fair and healthy market economy is taking root as evidenced by the mutually beneficial payment system now having processed more than 100 trillion won in settlements.
In addition, amid the difficulties with revising legislation, we will work to help put a stewardship code in place by newly enacting or revising enforcement decrees and will soon lay groundwork that will help encourage sound management at large corporations. We will also do everything within our means to revise relevant laws, including the Commercial Act, for a fair economy.
Recently, the National Assembly passed the bill for establishing an agency to investigate crimes by senior government officials. It is an institutional mechanism that prevents anyone from enjoying privileges before the law and ensures that the law is applied in an equitable and fair manner. Once the legal and institutional foundations for reforming law enforcement organizations are completed by passage of the bill that will readjust the authority to conduct investigations between prosecutors and the police, our society will become fairer and a stronger social trust will form. We will never stop legal, institutional and administrative reforms until all relevant organizations are seen as existing for the people.
Furthermore, fairness should be established anew across the board in education, job recruitment, the workplace, society and culture to meet the people’s expectations. We have become acutely aware of the people’s high demands for fairness, to which the Government will respond without fail. We will boldly rectify the unfairness that exists in all areas of the people’s lives to ensure that fairness takes root in our society.
The Government remains firmly committed to stabilizing the real estate market, protecting genuine owner-occupants and curbing speculation. We will never lose the war against real estate speculation. At the same time, by expanding the housing supply as planned, we will see to it that the residential stability of newlyweds, those living alone and other average citizens is safeguarded.
We are now at a time when we must show endurance for the sake of peace on the Korean Peninsula. This is the time when – more than ever before – we desperately need faith in peace and national unity.
For us, peace on the Korean Peninsula is not a matter of choice but the path we must take while overcoming all difficulties.
Following the inauguration of my Administration, expectations and hope for peace have risen as never before. The dark clouds of war that hovered over the Korean Peninsula until 2017 have cleared, and peace has now become a more attainable goal. However, it is regrettable that we’ve not been able to make further progress in inter-Korean cooperation over the past year.
It is true that as dialogue between North Korea and the United States began in earnest, both the South and North put those talks ahead of everything else. The expectations were that if the talks were successful, the door for inter-Korean cooperation would open up more quickly and broadly. The momentum for North Korea-U.S. dialogue should continue; a show of force and threats are not helpful to anyone. My Administration will also do all it can to promote dialogue between the two sides.
However, there are now concerns that inter-Korean relations themselves could suffer a setback amid the stalemate in the talks between North Korea and the United States. In addition to efforts to promote the success of the dialogue, the need to find realistic ways to further advance inter-Korean cooperation has become all the more urgent.
Internationally coordinated solutions are required to adhere to the three principles for peace on the Korean Peninsula: zero tolerance for war, mutual security guarantees and common prosperity. Still, there are things that can be accomplished through inter-Korean cooperation. I propose that South and North Korea put their heads together and have earnest discussions.
The two Koreas not only share a border but also represent a “community of life” where coexistence is imperative. I also propose that cooperation in the border area be started for the common safety of the 80 million Koreans. I believe that Chairman Kim Jong Un has the same determination.
A joint hosting of the 2032 Summer Olympics will serve as a golden opportunity to show to the world that the two Koreas consist of one nation and to make a leap forward together. It is an agreement between the leaders of the two Koreas as well as a promise to the international community as our intention to co-host has already been forwarded to the IOC.
I hope that we will be able to come together through continuous sports exchanges so that a joint hosting will be realized without fail. I am looking forward to talented North Korean athletes participating in the 1st East Asian Weightlifting Championships and ITTF 2020 World Team Table Tennis Championships, both of which will be held in South Korea this year. We should also continue consultations over athletes from both Koreas marching in together at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and the formation of a single unified team.
If South and North Korea identify realistic ways to implement projects to reconnect inter-Korean railroads and roads, it will not only lead to international cooperation but also provide a big boost to the resumption of inter-Korean tourism and the revitalization of North Korea’s tourism.
The idea of transforming the Demilitarized Zone into an international peace zone was proposed in a bid to guarantee mutual security for the two Koreas, both institutionally and realistically, and to gain international support. The two Koreas have already jointly registered ssireum on the representative list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The DMZ’s value is enormous and relates to ecology, history, peace and reconciliation between the South and North. Jointly registering the DMZ on the list of UNESCO World Heritage is something we can start right away. I am looking forward to a positive response from North Korea.
The path we intend to follow through peace is ultimately a peace-driven economy. The peace economy will usher in an era where division no longer acts as an obstacle to peace and prosperity so that both Koreas as well as neighboring countries can thrive together.
I am willing to meet time and again and constantly engage in dialogue. Efforts to resume operation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Geumgangsan tourism will also continue. Looking back upon the agreements that were not kept last year and reflecting on the reasons for the people’s expectations not being met, we will continue to move forward by taking one step or even a half of one step.
This meaningful year marks the 20th anniversary of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. I hope that the two Koreas will work together so that conditions for Chairman Kim Jong Un’s reciprocal visit to the South can be put in place as soon as possible in addition to the hosting of joint events to solidify our commitment to peaceful reunification.
Last year, the Government strengthened cooperation with ASEAN to build a community of mutual prosperity through the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and the Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit.
The Government will also further solidify the ROK-U.S. alliance this year while accelerating the New Southern and New Northern policies to diversify foreign affairs.
We will work to take the traditional alliance with the United States to a new height and make concerted efforts to complete the Korean Peninsula peace process.
We will strengthen exchanges and cooperation with China in various areas. Since visits to Korea by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are scheduled this year, we will endeavor to ensure that Korea-China relations will be upgraded to a higher level.
Japan is one of our closest neighbors. We will develop bilateral cooperative relations in a more forward-looking manner. If Japan removes its export restrictions, our two countries’ relations will be able to advance more rapidly.
Russia is a key partner in the New Northern Policy. As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties, I am looking forward to setting a new milestone in New Northern diplomacy.
Korea will host the P4G Summit and the Korea-China-Japan Summit this year and serve as the chair country for MIKTA. We will fulfill our responsibilities as a proud middle-power nation that cooperates internationally for the sake of responding to climate change and sustainable development.
The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic. Our chests swell upon hearing the name because it is a democratic republic that our people have reclaimed and protected. Our faith in a democratic republic is as hot as the heat from the candles we once raised high.
We commemorated the 100th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement and the establishment of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government in particular last year because that spirit has become the very foundation of our democratic republic.
Our democratic republic is further expanding and becoming stronger through mutual benefit. When all the members of a community work together and prosper together, the sovereign rights of the people grow stronger and a genuine unity of the people can be achieved.
The global situation is still undergoing an upheaval. International competition is getting fiercer in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is a possibility that protectionism and technological hegemony can spread further. Only when our society becomes a more integrated and cooperative one internally can we compete successfully and continue to make progress. Extremism should be rejected; the conservatives and progressives need to understand each other and work together.
I will be the first to make a greater effort. I will make a mutually beneficial leap forward through tangible changes a top priority, and I will communicate with the people more often.
The most beautiful transformation may be the arduous metamorphosis of a pupa shedding its skin to emerge as a butterfly. Over the past two and a half years, we have endeavored to create a new order. When we completely transform into a butterfly, we will be able to make a mutually beneficial leap forward with a pair of wings that comprise labor and management, SMEs and large companies, the conservatives and progressives, and the South and North.
Now, we are starting another 100 years. Based on innovation and inclusiveness as well as fairness and peace, we will move a step closer to a country where everyone prospers together and a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula. We will strive harder to make our lives even better.