Fellow 7.5 million Koreans overseas, Korean community leaders in countries around the world,
I wholeheartedly congratulate you on the 15th World Korean Day.
As Koreans, the more we come together, the more strength we gain. Last year, we were not able to hold a World Korean Day ceremony due to the COVID-19 outbreak; we could only stay where we were and long to see one another. My heartfelt welcome goes to those Koreans from overseas who have come far despite the difficulties. I also offer my regards to those overseas Koreans who – regretting not being able to attend this event in person – are with us online to show their deep sense of fraternity.
Wherever they are around the world, Koreans are shining stars in their chosen fields. We have fostered hopes and built our strength to recover while trusting, relying on and longing to be with each other. I extend my profound respect and gratitude to our overseas Koreans, the delegation of Korean community leaders and those who rendered distinguished service to Koreans abroad for uniting as one and shining all the more brightly even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At today’s ceremony, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Korean emigration to Cuba, we are joined by Lim Dae-han, one of the next-generation overseas Koreans. His great-grandfather Lim Cheon-taek was among the first generation of Korean immigrants to Cuba and a Korean independence movement activist. His descendants are carrying on his legacy. The first generation of our forebears overseas wrote chapters in our history of proudly taking on challenges and making achievements across the globe, ranging from China’s Gando and Russia’s Maritime Province to Central Asia, Hawaii, Mexico and Cuba.
Despite their hard life on foreign soil, they provided support to the Provisional Republic of Korea Government and the Korean Liberation Army. They launched a fundraiser with the rallying call “Let’s gather strength if you have strength and contribute money if you have money.” The historical experience of finally gaining the country’s independence by all people joining forces served as an immense catalyst for the Republic of Korea to overcome war, poverty, dictatorship and economic crises following liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
Last year, in the face of an unprecedented crisis caused by COVID-19, our potential shined once more. Koreans overseas sent anti-epidemic supplies and charitable donations to their homeland. In addition, they gave out face masks and other essential epidemic prevention items to Korean War veterans and the vulnerable in their adopted countries. They also helped other Koreans and neighbors in need in their communities. Thanks to overseas Koreans in many parts of the world practicing the proverb “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” the Republic of Korea’s standing has been elevated. Our cooperation with the governments of many countries has also strengthened further. I am truly grateful to and proud of each and every overseas Korean who has served as an excellent private ambassador.
When you face difficulties and hardships, your homeland is always by your side. The Government will work more meticulously to make it possible for you to take pride in your homeland. We made protecting and assisting Korean citizens overseas and other persons of Korean descent one of our key administrative priorities and have practiced relevant policies to date. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Overseas Koreans and Consular Affairs Bureau has been upgraded to the Office of Overseas Koreans and Consular Affairs, and the number of consular staff exclusively in charge of accidents and incidents occurring overseas has significantly increased. The Crisis Management Division, opened in 2018, is now up and running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Above all, the Government has done all it could to protect overseas Koreans amid the spread of COVID-19. In cooperation with Korean communities overseas and the governments of different countries, we’ve been able to get around air travel restrictions. To date, a total of 62,200 Koreans abroad have safely returned home from 122 countries, and 22,500 Koreans who live overseas have made it back to their countries of residence without incident. The Act on Consular Assistance of Protecting Overseas Korean Nationals entered into force in earnest in January this year. This month, 13 government ministries and agencies will combine their capabilities to more thoroughly protect lives, safety and property by launching the Committee on Protection of Korean Nationals Abroad.
Also, we will never forget the state’s responsibility for those who devoted themselves to independence but have yet to return to their liberated homeland. In accordance with the Special Act on the Assistance of Ethnic Koreans on Sakhalin, which took effect in January this year, 350 of our compatriots are set to return to Korea for permanent residency by the end of this year. We will make sure that any ethnic Koreans on Russia’s Sakhalin Island who want to return to their homeland for permanent residency can do so in phases.
Whenever I meet heads of state and other key figures from other countries, I hear them compliment you. They express appreciation by saying that Korean communities have made significant achievements in all fields, contributing greatly to their country’s development.
The Korean communities’ next generation is becoming proud leaders in the countries where they live and partners in their homeland’s growth – following in the footsteps of their forebears. Overseas Korean business leaders, who have achieved success around the world, are serving as a reliable buttress for domestic companies’ exports and advance into overseas markets. Politicians of Korean descent abroad, including the members of the Overseas Korean Politicians Council, are working as leaders who help unite Koreans around the world as well as those in their own countries and serve as a solid bridge for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Last year, four Korean Americans were elected to the United States House of Representatives, and a Korean German entered the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in September for the first time in history. This is indeed the pride of not only those Korean communities but all of the Korean people.
As Korean communities abroad have advanced, so has the Republic of Korea – now one of the world’s top 10 economic powerhouses. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development unanimously upgraded our national status from that of a developing to an advanced country – a world first. In September, the World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized U.N. agency, ranked our country fifth in the world and first in Asia on its Global Innovation Index. It was a splendid feat to reconfirm the Republic of Korea’s status as an innovation powerhouse, following our topping the lists of both the EU’s European Innovation Scoreboard and the Bloomberg Innovation Index.
Most of all, I am very proud of the soft power that the Republic of Korea has cultivated through culture, arts and sports. The strength of empathy and solidarity that transcends borders is touching the world. More than anything else, it was overseas Koreans who helped Hallyu culture begin to thrive abroad. Building upon the foundation of empathy and bonds that have accumulated in various regions, we have created an endless flow of Hallyu, including K-pop, K-dramas, films, games, webtoons, K-beauty and food. The letter “K” has now become a brand that symbolizes the Republic of Korea’s dignity and soft power, and “Made in Korea” has become trusted and loved by people around the world.
What is even more pleasing is the fact that the national pride and self-esteem of overseas Koreans are growing at the same time. Efforts to learn our language and the history of our people and to preserve national identity are increasing in Korean communities worldwide. The Government will also give all available support so that our future generations can grow into confident leaders in various countries and local communities while never forgetting their Korean heritage.
The establishment of Hangeul schools, Korean Education Centers and other such institutions abroad as well as subsequent support will be significantly expanded. We are also providing more scholarships and invitation programs to allow overseas Koreans to visit their homeland. In addition, we will push ahead with the building of an Overseas Koreans Education and Culture Center as planned. It will become a foothold for the education of future generations and the consolidation of the 7.5 million overseas Koreans’ potential. Moreover, efforts will be made to entice the next generation of talented individuals from overseas Korean communities to serve as notable professionals here in the Republic of Korea.
Distinguished overseas Koreans and Korean community leaders around the world,
Our people have weathered countless crises and adversities by pulling together. While practicing the spirit of inclusiveness and mutual benefit, we have demonstrated the power of solidarity and cooperation across borders. However, we have yet to overcome division. From the perspectives of overseas Koreans, the two Koreas, divided as South and North, are a sad reality. However, we have no reason to confront each other. Any competition over political and economic systems and comparisons of national power have long been rendered meaningless. Now, it is more important to prosper together. Even if unification may take time, the South and North can work together and get along on good terms.
The role of overseas Koreans who share our national identity is very important. I hope that overseas Koreans will widely promote awareness of the global power of a united Korea – going beyond the South and North – and the possibility of greater prosperity through permanent peace.
We envision future generations from the 80 million people in the two Koreas and the 7.5 million overseas Koreans empathizing with each other and working in solidarity for the sustainable development of the Korean Peninsula and the world. I believe that the 7.5 million overseas Koreans will stand together along the way. The simple fact that there are always overseas Koreans present wherever we go in the world is a tremendous asset. Once again, I am grateful to overseas Koreans who support and encourage me every time I travel abroad.
I express my deep respect to the 7.5 million overseas Koreans who have always stood by their homeland, and we will double our efforts to build a Republic of Korea that they can be proud of.