Yoon Suk-yeol dangles carrots at North Korea in Liberation Day speech
President Yoon Suk-yeol expanded on his "audacious initiative" to help North Korea's economy — provided Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization.
In his first Liberation Day address Monday, Yoon said his plan could "significantly improve North Korea's economy and its people's livelihoods in stages if the North ceases the development of its nuclear program and embarks on a genuine and substantive process for denuclearization."
He spoke in a ceremony on the front lawn of the Yongsan presidential office in central Seoul to honor the 77th Liberation Day, marking Korea's independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945.
In his speech, Yoon said his government could implement a large-scale food program for North Korea; provide assistance for power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure; and carry out projects to modernize North Korea's ports and airports for international trade.
He also offered to help enhance North Korea's agricultural productivity, assist in modernizing hospitals and medical infrastructure and support international investment and financial initiatives.
"Denuclearization of North Korea is essential for sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia and around the world," said Yoon.
Yoon was elaborating for the first time on a so-called audacious plan for Pyongyang he first proposed in his inaugural address on May 10.
First Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said in a briefing later Monday, "In addition to the economic sector, a roadmap for cooperation in the political and military sectors has also been prepared in line with the process of reaching a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization and the substantive denuclearization of North Korea."
Kim said, "If North Korea enters into denuclearization talks with sincerity, it is a bold proposal which will actively provide economic support measures from the initial negotiation process."
The Yoon government proposes a "resources-food exchange program" linking North Korea's underground resources such as minerals, sand, and rare earth metals with food support, as well as improvement in people's livelihoods through health care, drinking water, sanitation, and forestry.
The idea is to link North Korea's abundant mineral resources with the supply of food and daily necessities, inspired by the oil-for-food program, through which the international community supplied food in exchange for buying Iraq's oil in the 1990s.
Kim said that if a comprehensive denuclearization agreement is reached with the North, a joint economic development committee could be established to accelerate inter-Korean economic cooperation in tandem with phased denuclearization measures.
He stressed, "The goal of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration's North Korea and unification policy is to realize a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula."
Such cooperation projects, however, could require exemptions to UN sanctions on North Korea, a subject that can be discussed in the future with the international community, said a senior presidential official
In his Liberation Day address Monday, Yoon also discussed ways to improve relations with Tokyo and called Japan a "partner" in the face of common threats.
"In the past, we had to unshackle ourselves from the political control imposed upon us by imperial Japan so that we could regain and defend our freedom," said Yoon. "Today, Japan is our partner as we face common threats that challenge the freedom of global citizens."
Yoon proposed to "swiftly and properly improve" bilateral ties by upholding the spirit of the 1998 joint declaration of Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi as a "blueprint of a comprehensive future for Korea-Japan relations."
On Oct. 8, 1998, those two leaders held a summit and made a joint declaration, seen as a breakthrough in bilateral ties, in which Obuchi recognized that Japan in the past caused "tremendous damage and suffering" to the Korean people through its colonial rule and expressed his "deep remorse and heartfelt apology." In turn, Kim called for the two countries to "overcome their unfortunate history and build a future-oriented relationship based on reconciliation as well as good-neighborly and friendly cooperation."
The two countries face ongoing historical spats stemming from Japan's colonial rule over Korea, namely the compensation of forced laborers and wartime sexual slavery issues.
Addressing the friction, Yoon said, "When Korea-Japan relations move toward a common future, and when the mission of our times align, based on our shared universal values, it will also help us solve the historical problems that exist between our two countries."
Yoon stressed that the two countries "must contribute to the peace and prosperity of the international community" through extensive cooperation in areas ranging from economic and security cooperation to social and cultural exchanges."
He also pointed to deepening polarization as a challenge to overcome in South Korean society.
He said the government will stabilize the real estate market by "streamlining regulations that distort demand and supply" and offer better housing to the socially disadvantaged.
Noting the damage from recent heavy rainfall and flooding, Yoon said the government "will offer thorough and deliberate assistance" to affected people and "spare no effort to provide support and restore damage."
He added that fundamental measures will be taken to prevent future disasters, noting that low-income families are exposed to greater risks when disaster strikes.
Yoon urged a "big leap forward to innovate our economy," calling for regulatory reform to help the private sector and scientific and technological developments so that Korea can become "a leader in industrial advancement."
He concluded, "By contributing to global peace and prosperity in solidarity as a responsible nation on the foundation of the universal values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law, we will be able to inherit and preserve the noble cause of our heroes who dedicated themselves to the independence movement."
The Liberation Day ceremony was attended by some 300 people, including first lady Kim Keon-hee, independence fighters and their relatives, politicians, religious leaders and diplomats.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]