Fellow Koreans and compatriots abroad,
One hundred years ago today, we were united as one.
At noon on March 1, students passed out the Declaration of Korean Independence. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the national representatives held a ceremony to declare Korea’s independence at Taehwagwan in Seoul, and some 5,000 people read the Declaration aloud together at Tapgol Park.
The protagonists of the March First Independence Movement were ordinary people such as laborers, farmers, women, soldiers, rickshaw pullers, gisaeng, butchers, serfs, street merchants, students and monks. These people also participated in a nationwide campaign to repay the national debt to Japan by quitting smoking to save, donating ornamental hairpins and rings made of gold and silver, and even selling locks of hair.
On that day, we were reborn as citizens of a republic; we were no longer subjects of a dynasty or a colony of Imperial Japan. The great journey toward a democratic republic began at that time looking beyond independence and liberation.
One hundred years ago today, there was no South and North Korea.
From Seoul and Pyeongyang to Jinnampo, Anju, Seoncheon, Uiju and Wonsan, loud chants of manse erupted on the same day, and these calls for independence spread like a wildfire to every corner of the country.
For two months from March 1, manse protests took place in 211 out of the total 220 cities and counties across the country regardless of the region – whether they belonged to what is now a part of South or North Korea. The chorus of people shouting manse continued into May.
Just over two million people, about 10 percent of the total living on the Korean Peninsula at the time, joined the manse demonstrations. Some 7,500 Koreans were murdered with 16,000 injured. The number of people arrested and detained reached as many as 46,000.
The most horrible tragedy occurred in Maengsan, Pyeongannam Province. On March 10, 54 local residents descended on a military police outpost to call for the release of detained teachers; they were massacred inside the building. Another act of brutality followed in Jeam-ri of Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. A total of 29 villagers, with even children among them, were massacred after they were locked in a church that was later set on fire.
In contrast, however, not a single Japanese civilian was killed due to attacks by Koreans.
We Koreans were also united as one in Yongjeong, China, across the border in what was North Gando; in Vladivostok in the Maritime Province of the Russian Far East; in Hawaii; and in Philadelphia. Anyone and everyone who felt a part of the Korean nation organized and took part in a rally.
We all together aspired to independence and dreamed of popular sovereignty. Those who harbored the chants of the March First Independence Movement in their hearts began to realize that common people like themselves were the main drivers of the independence movement and the rightful owners of the country. That awareness prompted the participation of ever more people and empowered them to shout their chants every single day. The first fruition was the Provisional Republic of Korea Government, the root of a democratic republic.
The Provisional Government stipulated “a democratic republic” in Article 1 of its Charter, upholding the spirit of the March First Independence Movement. It was the first case in world history of a democratic republic expressly set forth in a constitution.
Wiping out the vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators is a long-overdue undertaking. Only when we contemplate past wrongdoings can we move toward the future together. The task of setting history right is what is needed to help our future generations stand tall. Firmly upholding the national spirit is the state’s responsibility and duty.
What we intend is neither to instigate divisiveness by reopening old wounds now nor to create issues for diplomatic conflicts with a neighboring country. Neither of these is desirable. Wiping out the vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators, just as with diplomacy, should be done in a forward-looking manner.
Shedding these vestiges is all about reaffirming the most basic values: Acts of pro-Japanese collaborators are what should be repented, and the independence movement is what should be honored and respected. This simple truth is justice, and upholding justice is the beginning of creating an equitable country.
The Japanese imperialists labeled independence armies as bandits and independence activists as thought offenders to justify their crackdowns. The word “Reds” originated from them.
Terms like “thought offenders” and “Reds” were not applied exclusively to actual communists. These words were used to stigmatize all independence activists ranging from nationalists to anarchists.
Hostility between the left and the right and ideological stigmas were tools used by Japanese imperialists to drive a wedge between us. Even after liberation, they served as tools to impede efforts to remove the vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators. They were also used to brand the public as enemies when it came to massacres of civilians, spurious accusations of spying for North Korea and the student pro-democracy movement. Even in the liberated homeland, those who used to serve as police officers during Japanese colonial rule painted independence activists as Reds and tortured them.
Many people were labeled Reds and thus sacrificed. Their relatives and bereaved families had to live ill-fated lives under social stigmas. Still now in our society, the word “Reds” is being used as a tool to vilify and attack political rivals, and a different kind of “Red Scare” is running rampant. These are typical vestiges left by pro-Japanese collaborators, which we should eliminate as soon as possible.
The 38th parallel drawn through our minds will disappear all together once the ideological hostility that caused internal rifts are removed. When we discard feelings of aversion and hatred toward others, our internal liberation will be completed. Only then will a new century be able to begin in a genuine sense.
My fellow Koreans,
Over the past century, we have continued our journey toward a fair and just nation that envisions peace and freedom for all of humanity.
Overcoming colonial rule, war, poverty and dictatorship, we have accomplished miraculous economic growth. Through the April 19 Revolution, the Busan-Masan Democratic Protests, the May 18 Democratization Movement, the June 10 Struggle and the candlelight revolution, ordinary people have striven by their own initiative and means to build a democratic republic for all of us. The spirit of the March First Independence Movement has been revived whenever our democracy faced a crisis.
This new 100 years is the century for completing a true country of the people. It is a new 100 years to achieve unity through novel ideas and mindsets, without being pulled around by past ideologies.
We have courageously taken on the challenge of creating a peaceful Korean Peninsula. Undaunted by change, we have taken a new path. This new 100 years is the century to ensure that this challenge leads to success.
At the time when I announced the Korean Peninsula peace initiative in Berlin in July 2017, peace seemed too far away to grasp. When an opportunity arose, however, we stepped forward and took hold of peace. At last, a spring of peace arrived amid a cold snap in Pyeongchang.
Last year, I met with Chairman Kim Jong Un for the first time at Panmunjeom and, by bringing the minds of 80 million Koreans together, we proclaimed to the whole world that an era of peace has dawned on the Korean Peninsula. In September last year, I stood in front of 150,000 citizens of Pyeongyang at May Day Stadium. As President of the Republic of Korea, I promised them complete denuclearization, peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
On the Korean Peninsula, shots are no longer heard in the sky, on the land and across the seas. Unearthed along with the remains of 13 soldiers in the DMZ was our yearning for reconciliation. Railroads and roads between the two Koreas, which constitute national arteries, are now being reconnected. As fishing grounds surrounding our five northwestern border islands in the West Sea expanded, fishers’ hopes of catching a full haul have grown. Ideas once regarded as ethereal rainbows are now taking shape before our eyes one by one.
The DMZ will soon be returned to the people. One of the most well-preserved areas of nature on earth will prove to be a blessing for us. Whether we create a peace park there, house an international organization dealing with peace, or visit for eco-peace tourism, or make a pilgrimage there, the DMZ can be used jointly for the wellbeing of Koreans from both sides while preserving the natural environment.
This will lead to South Koreans' free and safe trips to North Korea. I will strive to make it possible for separated families and displaced people to visit their hometowns and meet with their relatives, going beyond mere reunions as before.
Permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula will be firmly settled only after surmounting many critical junctures. The second North Korea-United States summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, made meaningful progress, given the fact that the two leaders had conversations at length, enhanced mutual understanding and built more trust.
Importantly, they even discussed the issue of installing liaison offices, an important step toward the normalization of bilateral ties. I have high regard for President Trump, who has expressed his commitment to continuing talks and optimistic views.
I believe this is part of a process to reach a higher level of agreement. Now our role has become even more important. My Administration will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea so as to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means.
The spring of peace that arrived on the Korean Peninsula was not ushered in by someone else. It is an outcome accomplished by ourselves – by the power of the people.
Unification need not be far away. Achieving a unity of mind while acknowledging differences and establishing mutually beneficial relations – this is exactly what unification is all about.
The coming 100 years will differ from the past in quality. We will push ahead with a bold transition toward a new Korean Peninsula regime and prepare for unification.
The new Korean Peninsula regime refers to the order of the coming century in which we will take on a leading role. Working together with the people and with North Korea as well, we will create a new order of peace and cooperation.
The new Korean Peninsula regime is a new community of peace and cooperation that will end confrontations and conflicts. We will establish a permanent peace regime without fail on the basis of our unwavering will, close ROK-U.S. coordination, a settlement in North Korea-U.S. talks and support from the international community.
The new Korean Peninsula regime is a new community of economic cooperation that will be formed after the era of ideology and factionalism is put behind us. I will help usher in an era of a peace-driven economy on the Korean Peninsula. We will consult with the United States on ways to resume tourism in Geumgang Mountain and operation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. South and North Korea agreed last year to cease all hostile military acts against each other and activate the Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee. When there is progress in denuclearization, a joint economic committee will be established between the two Koreas to produce economic achievements that benefit both South and North Korea.
Progress in inter-Korean relations will lead to the normalization of North Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan, later expanding into a new order of peace and security in Northeast Asia.
On the basis of the spirit of the March First Independence Movement and national unity, I will strive to foster this new Korean Peninsula regime. I urge all of you to pool our strength.
Peace on the Korean Peninsula will serve as a new driving force for economic growth, which will not only impact both Koreas but also encompass Northeast Asia, ASEAN and Eurasia.
A century ago, peoples and countries in Asia that were colonized or on the brink of colonization provided unreserved support for the March First Independence Movement. Chen Duxiu, a Beijing University professor who led the New Culture Movement, said that Joseon’s independence movement was magnificent, heroic and, at the same time, articulate: It ushered in a new era in the world history of revolution by only employing the will of the people without the use of force.
Asia is the place where ancient civilizations first began to flourish and where various civilizations have existed together. I will help peace on the Korean Peninsula contribute to prosperity in Asia. Sharing Asian values that seek to promote mutual growth, I will join in efforts to build a global order of peace and prosperity.
Completion of the railroads running the length of the Korean Peninsula will expedite the formation of the East Asian Railroad Community, which I proposed on Liberation Day last year. This will develop into an energy community and an economic community, solidifying a multilateral peace and security framework that encompasses the United States.
By hosting the 2019 ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and the inaugural Korea-Mekong summit, we will endeavor to build a people-centered community of peace and prosperity along with the members of ASEAN.
Cooperation with Japan will also be strengthened for the sake of peace on the Korean Peninsula. The Declaration of Korean Independence clearly stated that the March First Independence Movement was not driven by a spirit of enmity but was intended to promote the harmonious co-existence of all humankind. It also clarified that the Movement was aiming for peace in East Asia and the world. The Declaration read: “To boldly right old wrongs, opening a new relationship based on true mutual understating, is certainly the best way for both countries to avert disaster and foster amity.” This is our spirit that is still valid even today.
We cannot change the past but can transform the future. When Korea and Japan firmly join hands while reflecting on history, the era of peace will approach our side with large strides. When the pain of victims is substantively healed through concerted efforts, Korea and Japan will become genuine friends with heart-to-heart understanding.
Fellow Koreans and Koreans living overseas,
As we have cultivated the Republic of Korea together over the past 100 years, we have to prosper together in the century to come. Each and every one of the people must be able to have an equal and fair opportunity and find happiness in their work without facing discrimination.
For us to prosper together, we have embarked on yet another challenge of building an innovative, inclusive nation. The path toward an innovative, inclusive nation on which we are walking is also the same one that will build the country our forefathers dreamed of one hundred years ago today.
Countries around the world are now seeking a new path to solve the global issues of polarization and economic inequality, discrimination and exclusion, gaps among nations and climate change. They are closely watching how we take on the challenge to build an innovative, inclusive nation.
We are people unafraid of changes; in fact, we actively make use of them. We made a beautiful flower blossom in the world history of democracy through the most peaceful and refined methods. The strength to overcome the Asian foreign exchange crisis in 1997 and the global financial crisis in 2009 came entirely from the people.
Our next hundred years will be a century when peace leads to the power of inclusiveness, and the inclusiveness will in turn build a country where everyone prospers together. I am confident that we can take the initiative in making a transition into an inclusive nation and that the inclusive nation we are to build will become a global model of an inclusive nation.
The March First Independence Movement is still propelling us from behind into the future.
Today, we are reevaluating independence activist Yu Gwan-sun’s accomplishments to award her the Order of Merit for National Foundation anew – this time at the highest grade – because the Movement is still progressing. Independence activist Yu Gwan-sun was at the forefront of the manse protest in Cheonan’s Aunae marketplace. She staged a manse protest without fear of death to mark the first anniversary of the Movement even as she was locked in Seodaemun Prison. However, her biggest accomplishment is having her name alone call to mind the Movement whenever we hear Yu Gwan-sun.
The history of the past 100 years proves that we can achieve changes and innovation if we do not lose hope no matter how difficult our present reality is.
Over the next 100 years, the growth of the people will directly lead to the growth of the nation. When unity is achieved from within by moving beyond ideological confrontations, and when peace and prosperity are accomplished from outside, genuine independence will be completed.