A very regretful and unfortunate incident happened. It was something that should not have occurred even given our state of national division. Irrespective of how the victim drifted into North Korean waters, I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to his bereaved relatives for their broken hearts and grief.
I can fully imagine the intensity of the shock and rage felt by our people. Regardless of the circumstances, we feel considerable regret as the Government should protect the lives and safety of its citizens. With a resolve to prevent this kind of tragedy from repeating, we will revisit the importance of national security and peace for the protection of our people’s lives. We will take this incident as a lesson and strengthen the government’s responsibility.
The North Korean authorities promptly apologized and promised to take action to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents by sending a message just a day after our Government requested a responsible answer and measures. We have noted the North’s expression of clear intent to avoid inter-Korean relations being drawn into an irreversible situation by aggravating the circumstances. In particular, we find it extraordinarily meaningful that Chairman Kim Jong Un conveyed a message that expressed being very sorry to our people. It is the first time – and highly unusual – for North Korea’s supreme leader to promptly issue a direct apology. As such, we can confirm that Chairman Kim Jong Un takes this matter seriously and gravely and wishes to avoid the complete collapse of inter-Korean relations. I hope his message will prove helpful for the resolution of this incident and also for the future of inter-Korean relations.
It is imperative for both Koreas to ascertain the facts about this incident and devise substantive measures to prevent a similar recurrence. I hope to see both Koreas seek solutions together, so our shared determination that similar incidents should never occur does not turn out to be mere rhetoric.
If dialogue remains severed, there is no way to resolve the problem, and if we do not cooperate, it is difficult to devise effective measures to prevent a recurrence. I hope this tragedy does not end up as just another incident but becomes a turning point to reverse course – paving the way for dialogue and cooperation and helping advance inter-Korean relations.
In retrospect, our long history of division has been a record of countless sacrifices. This incident and how it is handled going forward will also be written down in that history of division. Now is the time to end this history of confrontation marked by repeated tragedies. Even if we cannot move toward institutionalized inter-Korean cooperation immediately, we must safeguard the lowest threshold that allows us to maintain peace under any circumstances. I hope we will be able to rekindle dialogue and help break the impasse in inter-Korean cooperation during the process of resolving this incident.
Moreover, what stands out as the most regrettable part of this incident is the reality that the inter-Korean military communication line has been severed. Only when contact and communication is maintained through the inter-Korean military communication line can inadvertent military conflicts or unexpected incidents or accidents be prevented during emergencies. Likewise, cooperation with rescue operations can also be smoothly conducted should South or North Korean people or ships at sea go adrift. As a first step, I ask the North to restore and reactivate at least the military communication line.
In two days, the long Chuseok holiday will begin. We celebrate this holiday amid economic hardships and the need to remain vigilant in our epidemic prevention and control efforts. I hope people can give one another strength during this time. Even though we may be physically apart, I hope we will be together in our hearts. I also hope that this holiday can serve as a time for us to replenish our exhausted bodies and minds through a slight pause.
I look forward to people sharing warm hearts with those who have to work during this extended holiday as well as with marginalized neighbors in need. In particular, I would like to express sympathy for those who carry the wounds of inter-Korean division and the displaced people whose hometowns are in the North.