Yoon Suk-yeol tells Assembly bipartisanship is needed
Yoon urged parliament to pass a 59.4-trillion-won ($47 billion) supplementary budget bill, approved by his Cabinet last Thursday, that will mainly focus on compensating small businesses hurt by the pandemic.
"Considering that the stability of the people's livelihoods is more urgent than ever," Yoon said, "I earnestly request the National Assembly's cooperation so that the supplementary budget can be finalized as soon as possible."
He added, "The seriousness of the crises and challenges we face demand stronger bipartisan cooperation than ever before, which transcends camps and factions."
Yoon also offered to help North Korea cope with its Covid-19 outbreak, offering to send vaccines, medical equipment and other supplies if Pyongyang agrees to accept them.
The address came six days after Yoon's inauguration.
In his 15-minute parliamentary speech, he addressed challenges faced by the country including North Korea's advancement of its nuclear weapons program and instability in domestic and foreign financial markets.
"Our security realities are getting more serious," said Yoon. "North Korea continues to advance its nuclear weapons day by day, test-firing missiles, a means of delivering nuclear weapons."
He noted that North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles on May 12, just two days after he took office, calling it the "16th provocation this year alone" and pointed to recent signs of preparations for a possible seventh nuclear test.
"We need to build a sustainable peace that is not just a mere formality," Yoon said, "through forming a virtuous cycle of North Korea's denuclearization and inter-Korean trust-building."
He further stressed, "We must spare no effort in providing support to people in North Korea exposed to the coronavirus threat."
North Korea is facing a Covid-19 outbreak after shutting itself off from the global pandemic two years ago.
"I have repeatedly expressed my will to give humanitarian aid at any time, without political or military considerations," said Yoon. "If the North Korean authorities respond, we will do all we can to provide necessary support, including Covid-19 vaccines, medical equipment and health care personnel."
Seoul's Unification Ministry said Monday that Pyongyang has been unresponsive to its offers for cooperation so far.
Addressing economic security concerns, Yoon said he will discuss with U.S. President Joe Biden during their summit in Seoul later this week "ways to strengthen cooperation on global supply chains through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)."
Yoon made public for the first time he will discuss Korea's participation in the IPEF, a comprehensive economic framework for the region proposed by the United States last October, seen as an initiative to decouple from the Chinese market through seeking alternative supply chains. The move could have diplomatic implications amid the Sino-U.S. rivalry, as the IPEF is seen to be establishing a supply chain that excludes China in key areas such as semiconductors and batteries.
Yoon also said he will talk about the digital economy and carbon neutrality in the upcoming summit.
"In order for the government to expand economic and security cooperation and lead in the forming of international norms with key countries, the help of the National Assembly is desperately needed," said Yoon.
Biden is set to make a three-day visit to Seoul from Friday and is scheduled to meet Yoon Saturday. He will depart Sunday to Tokyo for a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, meeting of the U.S.-led cooperative forum with Japan, India and Australia.
"The five years of the new government are a very important time to determine the future of our society," said Yoon in his address, as he called for bipartisanship. His appeal came as the rival Democratic Party (DP) has a supermajority of 167 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly, while Yoon's People Power Party (PPP) holds 109 seats.
He referred to Britain's example in World War II, recalling the wartime coalition government between Winston Churchill's Conservative Party and Clement Attlee's Labor Party.
Yoon said that Korea needs a partnership like that between Churchill and Attlee, "who willingly joined hands to overcome a common crisis even though their political values were different."
Yoon noted that small businesses "suffered massive damage and our economy and people's livelihoods are now in crisis" as a result of Covid-19 social distancing measures.
He stressed the need to reform Korea's pension, education and labor systems in a bipartisan manner. He underscored that the government and National Assembly must work together.
His address directly focused on unity, cooperation and communication with the National Assembly, unlike his inaugural address last Tuesday.
"I have the belief that true liberal democracy is parliamentarianism," said Yoon.
There were 18 rounds of applauses during Yoon's speech.
After the speech, PPP lawmakers gave a standing ovation, while DP lawmakers generally kept seated. DP lawmakers refrained from any booing.
Yoon wore a light blue tie, a departure from his usual reds, appearing to appeal to the DP, whose party color is blue.
Exiting the chamber, Yoon shook his hands with lawmakers from his party as well as the DP and minor progressive Justice Party. Rep. Yun Ho-jung, a co-chair of the DP emergency committee, and Park Hong-keun, DP floor leader, shook hands with Yoon and applauded as he passed. He also shook hands with Sim Sang-jeung, his presidential rival from the Justice Party in the March 9 election.
Ahead of the speech, Yoon held a meeting with party leaders and National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug.
Yoon also asked party leaders and the speaker for cooperation in parliamentary confirmation of Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo before the speech, PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok told reporters.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]