In the Geumgangsan Mountain area today, a reunion of families separated by the Korean War will be held for the first time in a long while. Relatives from around 170 families are now able to reunite with parents, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters whose survival has been uncertain for over seven decades. Considering that those who will be reunited today are elderly participants with ages ranging from 70 to 101, the Ministry of Unification and relevant agencies should take extraordinary care to ensure their safety at the event by having emergency medical staff in place. There are still more than 56,000 South Korean applicants for a reunion who are anxiously waiting for an opportunity to meet their relatives.
I saw a news report showing a 95 year old who had not been selected for the reunion this time bursting into tears, saying that the last chance had passed. As a member of a separated family myself, I feel deep empathy for the sorrow and frustration. Time is running out, indeed. Over the past five years, around 3,600 elderly applicants have passed away every year, and there were over 3,000 in just the first half of this year alone. It is a disgrace for both the South and North Korean governments that these applicants died with lasting regrets, not even knowing whether their separated family members were alive or not.
The waiting periods should not be prolonged any longer now. Having more reunions of separated families more frequently is the top priority among the humanitarian projects identified by the two Koreas. South and North Korea should make bolder efforts to resolve the separated family issue. Not only regular family unions but also ways to expand contact need to be implemented, including the complete confirmation of the survival of relatives, video-conference reunions, year-round reunions, exchanges of letters and visits to hometowns across the border. In particular, the Geumgangsan reunion center built years ago as agreed by the two Koreas should be in operation to allow reunions at any time in line with the intent of its construction.
With a heavy heart, I look at an employment situation that is deteriorating rather than improving. The Government has injected fiscal stimulus and implemented policies based on an administrative priority that focuses on increasing the number of decent jobs to ease the unemployment crisis. The end result, however, shows that our efforts have been admittedly insufficient. Monthly employment statistics point to the fact that government policies are having some positive impact in some areas, but in other areas, there have been less-than-expected or zero effects.
In some sectors and age groups, the employment situation is improving while it continues to deteriorate in others. There are as well some structural factors related to demographics, industrial restructuring, automation and online shopping, which cannot be resolved in the short term. To deal with this situation, the Government has to come up with comprehensive countermeasures, especially more encompassing and enhanced efforts for the sectors and age groups facing tough times. Given the fact that tax revenue is expected to increase this year and next year, I hope that the Government will actively execute its fiscal policy by making full use of the increased revenue.
In addition, I hope you will speed up regulatory reform and the strengthening of a fair economy to expand private sector investment and employment. I also hope that you will do your utmost to secure cooperation from the National Assembly. When carrying out policies, more than facing an impasse, we need to fear losing the people’s trust more than anything else. I ask everyone on economic policy teams at Cheong Wa Dae and in the Government to give the people confidence that the Government is making an all-out, united effort to confront the difficult employment situation with a determination to stake your positions on the results.