Cold War confrontation still grips usThe following is an edited text of President Roh Moo-hyun’s Liberation Day address on Sunday. -Ed.
Fellow citizens and overseas compatriots, along with all citizens, I celebrate the 59th anniversary of National Liberation and pay homage to the lofty spirit of our patriotic forefathers. We can now take pride in our position precisely because of the shining spirit of those who stood up to imperialist Japan without caving in to injustice and oppression. The Republic of Korea today owes its standing to the sacrifices and dedication of our patriot forebears. I pay profound tribute to them for staking their all in a bid to leave an independent nation and indomitable national spirit. I have deep respect for those who contributed to national independence and to the bereaved families of those who gave their lives.
Fellow citizens, for the past half century, we have been endeavoring to build the prosperous and powerful nation our forefathers dreamed of.
Yet our potential does not end there. We are poised to face fresh challenges in a bid to lift the Republic of Korea onto a higher plane. The people have come forth confidently as the main actors in politics. They have cast away the yoke of directives and control they suffered over past decades. On the strength of the people, transparent and clean politics has been taking shape. Unfolding now is an age when no one can prevail over the people, when all people actively participate and lead the way, and when the people assert their sovereignty.
Our economy has been changing in keeping with the progress in democratization. The age of a government-led economy has passed, and the nation has been bolstering the spontaneity and creativity of the market economy. We are committed to building a fair and transparent market by rooting out government-business collusion, unfair transactions and the tyranny of monopoly. Henceforth, the kind of market that competes with real strength will be built. Law-breakers and privilege-seekers will find no ground. Those businesses which continue to innovate and nurture talented individuals will succeed. In that way, the economy will bolster competitiveness and consolidate the fundamentals.
Although there are numerous tasks ahead of us, the Republic of Korea has been changing at a stunning pace. It is charging forth for a better tomorrow. I am confident that rebuilding the Republic of Korea in this way upholds the will of our forefathers and rewards their sacrifices.
Fellow citizens, as much as we feel respect for our ancestors, however, we also feel ashamed, and it will be difficult to hold our heads high because the remnants of pro-imperialist Japan sentiments have not been cleared up even now, ahead of the 60th anniversary of liberation, and the truth of history has not been fully revealed.
Acts of betrayal in support of imperialist Japan and colonial rule at the same time our patriotic forefathers were staking their lives in the fight for the nation are still hidden in the shade of history.
What is more shameful is that the independence fighters who followed the right path of history and their descendants have been plagued by poverty and alienation and have been persecuted by those who curried favor with imperialist Japan and subsequently became social leaders.
It would be realistically difficult to punish the anti-national, pro-Japanese elements or to deprive them of their vested rights. It is never intended to go back to the past, either. It is intended to create the right path to the future. History is the root of the future. Our children will only be able to make a bright future when they have been taught history correctly with justice and a sense of conscience. Herein perhaps lies the reason why we are gathered here today to reminisce about the meaning of liberation 59 years ago.
There are people who are concerned over division and friction. But I cannot understand why opinions are split and confrontation has surfaced over the job of clarifying the truth. Truth should be clarified by pooling wisdom. We should not neglect it even if shameful things may be uncovered. That is the genuine way to unite the power of people.
Fellow citizens, the anti-national activities of the pro-imperial individuals alone are not the only target of the clarification of the truth. The encroachment on human rights and the illegal acts perpetrated by past administrations should also be targeted. Truth should be clarified so as to preclude the recurrence of similar things.
I propose the formation of an ad hoc parliamentary committee to deal comprehensively with matters that have become contentious throughout history. Already, the National Assembly has been preparing thirteen bills related to the task of clarifying relevant events. But the bills involve different criteria and conflicts of interest among political parties, making it hard to deal with them individually.
If the National Assembly agrees on the principle of the need to clarify historic issues, the details of the method can be hammered out through consensus by sounding out public opinion.
Every time that investigations have been launched, alleged cover-ups and lack of cooperation on the part of government agencies have become an issue. This time, however, no such controversy should be allowed. Of course, the task is burdensome. Yet, the truth should not be buried any longer. The job has been deferred for decades. Now is the last chance for those who experienced the shackles of history to testify vividly. By doing so, I sincerely hope we will be able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of liberation in full confidence that a distorted understanding of history is being rectified.
Fellow Koreans, the division and confrontation that we are experiencing now was in fact caused by the distortions of our history. Particularly, the dictatorial regimes deepened distrust and conflict by dividing regions for political manipulation and repeating discriminatory and exclusionary measures. Now, we have to put an end to the history of national division.
More than anything, we have to firmly establish a mature democracy in which every citizen respects others and tries to solve differences through dialogue and compromise. We have to rectify unfair, discriminatory practices and pay more attention to socially vulnerable persons and minority social groups.
The current electoral district system has largely been responsible for Korean politics that pit one region against another, fomenting antagonism. Again, I appeal to political circles to take a drastic measure to come up with a new electoral district system that will replace the current system.
The imbalance between the Seoul metropolitan and provincial regions constitutes a serious barrier to national development and unity; this should not be left unattended. This problem must be solved at all costs before it becomes worse or even irreversible.
When the construction projects for the new administrative capital and other measures for balanced development of the land are carried out, the Seoul region will be able to develop qualitatively while the provincial areas will make viable progress in accordance with their characteristics.
Fellow citizens, today, we are overwhelmed with the memory of the joy of liberation, but at the same time we feel sorry before our ancestors because we are still divided into south and north. The wall of Cold War confrontation broke down more than a decade ago, but the Korean Peninsula is still overshadowed by it.
It is difficult to realize national unification overnight. However, until the day of unification, we cannot afford to pause for a moment in our endeavor to eliminate the danger of another war and to expand inter-Korea exchanges and cooperation. The participatory government is steadily taking steps according to the spirit of the historic South-North Joint Declaration of June 15, 2000.
For the first time since the country was halved, the two Koreas held general-level officer talks and laid a foundation for building mutual military trust. Gone are the loudspeakers from the DMZ that have been blasting propaganda broadcasts day and night for 50 years since the Korean armistice.
It is not strange anymore to see athletes from South and North Korea march hand in hand at the Olympic Games.
Some time ago, the two Koreas met in Gaeseong in North Korea to start a historic economic joint project. The Gaeseong Industrial Complex will open a pilot project at the end of this year. When the complex is completed in 2012, the two Koreas will have created a viable foundation for common prosperity in an area 10 times the size of Yeouido island in Seoul.
When the complex is in full operation, both Koreas will reap substantial economic benefits. At the same time, the danger of war on the peninsula will have decreased, and Korea’s creditworthiness will be bolstered in the international community. This is like killing three birds with one stone.
Before autumn passes, the Gyeongui Railroad Line linking Seoul and Shinuiju as well as inter-Korean highways will be reconnected. This represents the re-linking of blood ties that have been cut for half a century. This will also make it possible for us to travel through China and Russia to Europe by land.
To bring about such a bright future for all, the North Korean nuclear issue has to be resolved peacefully and at an early date. We have already clarified that we have comprehensive, concrete plans to support Pyeongyang in its efforts to reform and open its doors once the nuclear issue is settled. Now is the time for the Pyeongyang authorities to make a resolute decision. All 70 million Koreans on the peninsula should join hands and together forge a path of peace and prosperity.
Parallel with these efforts, the Republic should be able to develop a new framework of cooperation for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia based on the invaluable experiences shared at the six-party talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.
Koreans, what we now need most is self-confidence. We will have to carve out our destiny on our own.
Koreans in their 50s, 60s and 70s created something literally out of nothing. During the IMF bailout period caused by the foreign exchange crisis, Korea turned around sooner than many other nations. Nevertheless, some negative side effects still linger, but they can be used as a catalyst for changing the national economy for the better.
The Japanese economy is about to make a turnaround after 10 years of stagnation. The Korean economy too has undergone a viable restructuring process in the past few years and is transforming fast into one that is driven by reform and creativity.
We should not only be envious of the Chinese economy that has accomplished high growth. We have high technology that will give us a competitive edge in the future. We also have an efficient market system and democratic culture. We have all the ingredients that will allow us a bright future.
Despite that, we do not seem to have self-confidence about our future. There is a tendency to evaluate China very highly in term of its prospects and to accord Japan the same evaluation for both its current status and future prospects. But we tend to underestimate our own possibilities and accomplishments. We should never be self-complacent, but at the same time we should evaluate our own strengths fairly. Based on that, we should remain confident in ourselves. We have to continue to march vigorously with the expectation and attitude that we can do it.
It is also necessary for us to have an accurate understanding of the status of our security. Korea today is not the Korea of 100 years ago, when it was divided into pieces sandwiched in the power struggles between China, Japan and Western powers. We now have sufficient power to maintain our history and territory.
Depending on where the Korean people want to go, the order in Northeast Asia is bound to be affected. The choices made by the Korean people will continue to be essential in the business of predicting the future of Northeast Asia.
There still are people who interpret the argument for a self-reliant defense posture as running counter to the ROK-U.S. alliance. This is probably because they do not have confidence in our enhanced capabilities. A self-reliant defense posture and the ROK-U.S. alliance are not contradictory but are mutually complementary. In order to further solidify Korea-U.S. friendship and develop it into a future-oriented partnership, the pursuit of a self-reliant defense stance is especially necessary.
Blind opposition to the United States will not work either. This attitude seems to reflect the thinking that the United States is responsible for all the past, present and future problems of the Republic. But conversely, this thinking also reflects a belief that big powers decide everything for lesser countries. Through this kind of thinking, we will never be able to come up with our own viable ideas for our future.
Negotiations between Korea and the United States over the transfer of the U.S. military garrison in Yongsan have been dragging on for over 10 years. Recently, the two sides were able to make a final agreement as Korea made goodwill efforts to settle the issue, and the United States also demonstrated a very positive, cooperative stance to reach the agreement. The Yongsan site initially was used as a base by Qing troops and by the Japanese colonialists as its military headquarters. This piece of land in the center of Seoul that has served as a base for foreign troops for more than 120 years has finally been returned to Koreans.
If we want to make our future bright, we have to have determination and keep our hopes up today. We need to give ourselves more credit and forge our future with more confidence.
Fellow Koreans, the road we are walking is clear. It is the way that will lead the entire Northeast Asian region to peace and prosperity. In this region, there are unlimited resources and a huge market, with a population four times larger than Europe’s. In the years to come, we can make Korea a dynamic economic hub.
Let us gather our wisdom together and pool our strength. On the basis of that unity, let us carve out our destiny on our own. Let us make a Republic of Korea that will be steered by ourselves.
Let us strive to become the proud master of our own history.