Moon focuses on bridging social divides in Liberation Day speech
Equality and bridging social divides were the main themes of President Moon Jae-in’s Liberation Day address on Saturday, delivered amid an increasingly polarized political atmosphere surrounding his administration’s economic policies.
At the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in central Seoul, Moon trumpeted his Korean New Deal — an ambitious jobs creation plan banking on heavy investments in information technology — as a means to forge what he called a “new social contract for mutual benefit.”
“What matters the most is reducing gaps and inequality,” Moon said. “Only when everyone is living well can we say that genuine liberation has been achieved.”
In past years, Moon focused on issues like inter-Korean relations or the ongoing diplomatic spat with Japan in his Liberation Day address, which serves as one of the most important annual occasions for Korean presidents to highlight their policy platforms.
This year, the economy featured prominently in Moon’s speech, testifying to the alarm that has set in the administration due to growing public discontent over its controversial real estate policies.
Harking back to the groundswell of protests that catapulted him to the presidency in 2016, Moon vowed to redefine liberation as something more than just an occasion to celebrate Korea’s independence from Japanese rule 75 years ago, and about building an equitable system “where individual achievements are respected by everyone.”
“I think of a country that exists to guarantee individuals decent lives — not one where individuals exist for it,” he said. “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.”
No individual will be left behind in this drive, Moon stressed, noting the government’s efforts throughout the year to rescue kidnapped sailors in waters off West Africa, and the evacuation of Korean citizens from Covid-19-stricken countries around the globe.
The same respect, the president continued, would be accorded to the Korean victims of forced labor under Japanese rule who won a damages suit against Japanese companies at the Korean Supreme Court in 2018. The court said the companies were obligated to pay compensation to the Korean laborers who were forced to work during Japan's rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945.
The ruling prompted the Japanese government last year to impose retaliatory trade restrictions on industrial exports to Korea, setting off a bitter diplomatic dispute that brought bilateral relations between the two countries to the worst point in decades.
“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,” Moon said. “We will affirm the fact that protecting an individual’s dignity will never end up incurring a loss for his country.”
Though he pledged to uphold the verdict of the court, Moon said Seoul had been “engaging in consultations with the Japanese government on how to reach a satisfactory resolution” agreeable to the plaintiffs.
“The door for such consultations remains wide open,” he said, adding his administration was willing to hold talks with Tokyo “at any time” on the issues.
The message, however, was received with little reception in Japan. According to the right-wing Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo could “not find a single reason to improve relations with the ‘victim-centered’ Moon administration.”
Tying inter-Korean relations into his message of an equitable and free Korea, Moon devoted the final part of his speech to again stress the importance of engagement between the two Koreas toward “guaranteeing the life and safety of everyone living on the Korean Peninsula."
Cooperation between South and North Korea “is indeed the best security policy that allows both Koreas to break away from reliance on nuclear or military strength,” he added, after proposing collaboration in the fields of health care, forestry and agricultural research.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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