Fellow Koreans, distinguished guests from home and abroad,
On August 15, Korea’s Liberation Day, we finally brought back the remains of General Hong Beom-do, a hero of the Republic of Korea’s war of independence and a source of pride for the Korean people. Today, we are posthumously presenting him with the nation’s highest Order of Merit.
The General formed a volunteer righteous army in 1907 and fought the imperial Japanese military. In 1919, he founded the Greater Korea Independence Army to advance into the homeland by bringing together the Korean people’s righteous mettle that sprang from the March First Independence Movement. In 1920, the next year, he spearheaded victories at the battles of Fengwudong and Qingshanli, the first great triumphs of the war of independence against imperial Japan’s regular army units. He pulled off the most remarkable military achievement in the history of the war of independence. The General was so valiant that even the Japanese military were in awe of him, calling him “the Flying General” for his ability to emerge suddenly over vast distances. Despite his accomplishments on the battlefield, he led the harmonious development of the ethnic Korean community in Kazakhstan through tremendous graciousness and humility. The path that the General took after leaving the Korean Peninsula – from China’s Gando Province to Russia’s Maritime Province and on to faraway Kyzylorda in Central Asia – was a solemn journey toward freedom, peace, justice and equality.
On October 25, 1943, two years before Korea achieved the liberation he had long sought, General Hong passed away at the age of 75 in Kyzylorda. On August 15, 2021, he completed his final journey back to his homeland that had gained the independence that he had wished for all his life. It has been 100 years since the battles of Fengwudong and Qingshanli. The Republic of Korea Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation being conferred represents the glory of our country and simultaneously a firm commitment to upholding the General’s spirit.
Fellow Koreans, distinguished guests from home and abroad.
Fifty years ago, in 1962, the Government of the Republic of Korea awarded General Hong the Presidential Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation. Unfortunately, however, it was not until the 1980s that people in Korea came to know well the latter part of his life. Only after Korea established diplomatic ties with Kazakhstan in 1992 has it come to light that that country had warmly embraced our compatriots after they were forced to migrate to Central Asia from Siberia’s coastal Maritime Province during the Japanese colonial period and that these Korean settlers had contributed significantly to Kazakhstan’s development and unity. In addition to this, the entire life of General Hong – a source of pride and a spiritual anchor for ethnic Koreans in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries – rose from legend to stand tall as a great historical fact.
In this way, the friendship between Korea and Kazakhstan has gone beyond a simple diplomatic relationship. Between our two countries are General Hong, ethnic Koreans and the common experience of having overcome a history of hardships through the power of inclusiveness and mutual benefit.
Korea and Kazakhstan have closely cooperated to repatriate the remains of General Hong. In particular, President Tokayev expressed profound empathy and respect for our people’s desire to bring the General back to be laid to rest in his homeland following the repatriation of independence activists Gye Bong-woo and Hwang Woon-jeong in 2019. On behalf of all the people of the Republic of Korea, I would like to express the deepest gratitude to President Tokayev and the Government of Kazakhstan for their special attention to and support for the return of these remains. I am also deeply grateful to the ethnic Koreans there who showed the most love toward the General, including the first generation of those who built a community with him.
The return of General Hong’s remains is even more meaningful as it is made along with President Tokayev’s state visit to Korea. In addition, President Tokayev personally donated precious memorial items today related to the General. Now General Hong has become a firm symbol of friendship and trust between our two countries. His spirit will become a milestone of cooperation toward mutual benefit, inclusiveness, peace and prosperity between both countries.
The Korean Government will honor General Hong’s spirit together with the people and do all it can to turn our friendship with Kazakhstan into one that promotes mutual prosperity. It is even more meaningful to hold a ceremony with President Tokayev to posthumously award the General the highest Order of Merit prior to our bilateral summit. I express my gratitude to President Tokayev once more for joining us at the ceremony. Whenever I think of General Hong, I will think of Kazakhstan and the ethnic Koreans there.