It has been two years since the two leaders of South and North Korea announced the historic Panmunjom Declaration. My feelings and memories at that time are still fresh. The scene of me and Chairman Kim Jong Un, hand-in-hand, stepping over and back across the Military Demarcation Line touched the hearts of 80 million Koreans and people around the world. The Panmunjom Declaration to which we two leaders agreed was the prelude to a new era toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, free of war. The Panmunjom Declaration became the starting point for taking inter-Korean relations to a new level as it led to the Pyeongyang Joint Declaration of September 19 and an agreement in the military domain. It also laid the groundwork for the first-ever North Korea-United States summit.
The Panmunjom Declaration opened the door to irreversible peace, but in the two years since, we have been made keenly aware once again that peace will not come overnight. Hopes have been raised and dashed repeatedly during this period, but we have persevered and worked hard to advance the peace process, albeit at a slow pace.
The fact that the Panmunjom Declaration’s implementation could not be sped up was never for lack of determination. It was because we could not step beyond the international restrictions that are part of reality. Nonetheless, we cannot afford to keep waiting until conditions get better. Even within the actual constraints, we should continue to find what is doable and unceasingly carry them out no matter how small.
We will usher in the future of a peace economy on the basis of the trust and firm commitment to peace that Chairman Kim and I share. As long as we do not forget the fact that we ourselves are the masters of the Korean Peninsula’s destiny, a path is bound to open up. We might be able to widen even a narrow path into a broader one.
We will set out to find the most realistic and practical way for inter-Korean cooperation. The COVID-19 crisis may be a new opportunity for the two Koreas to work together. As of this moment, it is the most pressing and urgent cooperation-related task. In March, Chairman Kim sent a personal letter to console and encourage our people, and I reciprocated in kind as well. The South and North are a single community of life. Our inter-Korean community of life will become a foundation for a community of peace.
For a Korean Peninsula of life, I hope inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation are actively carried out – starting with collaborating on concerted responses to COVID-19 and later joining forces to cope with infectious livestock diseases, disasters and calamities at the border area and climate change.
Also, in regard to connecting inter-Korean railroads, we will start with what is possible first. I look forward to working together to attain a vision for reconnecting the Donghae and Gyeongui lines, as agreed upon by the two leaders. In regard to the grand vision of turning the Demilitarized Zone into an international peace zone, I hope that the two Koreas will steadily pursue this vision, starting with those projects that we can accomplish together. I’d like to see both Koreas join forces to transform this symbol of division into a zone of peace and hope.
Of note, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. One of the overriding significances when commemorating the War lies in remembering the ravages it left behind and bolstering our resolve that there must never be another war on this land. The joint excavation of the remains of soldiers who died in the Korean War is a meaningful project between the two Koreas that is intended to heal the wounds of the War and move us toward a new future of life and peace. Therefore, we must continue this project. As soon as the COVID-19 situation stabilizes, we will pursue reunions of separated families and mutual visits by displaced people to their hometowns.
COVID-19 is awakening a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. The underlying spirit of the Panmunjom Declaration is also solidarity and cooperation. These are the fundamental values of the post-COVID-19 era as well. I hope that both Koreas will speed up the efforts to overcome COVID-19 and implement the Panmunjom Declaration together in order to blaze a trail in the post-COVID-19 era and build a mutually advancing Korean Peninsula of peace and prosperity.
With the number of daily new confirmed cases falling sharply – hovering around 10 for more than a week – the domestic COVID-19 situation is clearly stabilizing. Accordingly, our confidence is growing that, if we pool our efforts just a little more, we can return to our normal daily lives. The tearful dedication of our quarantine authorities and medical professionals as well as the people’s voluntary participation, cooperation and collective intelligence have provided significant strength thus far. I offer words of profound respect and gratitude once again.
However, it’s not over yet. Since humanity lacks immunity and a vaccine and treatments have yet to be developed, we never know if just a small number of confirmed cases could set off a detonator that sparks an infection cluster. Moreover, the circumstances abroad have still not been brought under control, and experts have also warned that there could be a second wave of infections in the coming fall or winter. Given all of this, we should resolve to live an inconvenient life together with COVID-19, keeping in mind that we are in a prolonged struggle.
Now is the time to prepare for a wise coexistence between safety precautions against the virus and daily life while taking a long-term perspective. Korea’s COVID-19 response is becoming a global standard due to the international community’s favorable assessment of Korea’s quarantine model, but we have to take a step further. While fighting the virus, we must simultaneously succeed in transitioning to a normal routine.
We can do this, just as we safely held the general election with a higher turnout than usual. The world is once more paying attention to us to see how we are going to manage the coexistence of virus safety precautions and our routine lives. Let’s all join forces together so that K-daily life [Korea’s post-COVID-19 routine life model] can become another global standard and an exemplary case in addition to its COVID-19 response.
The daily lives we return to might be strange and unfamiliar, different from the routines of the past. This is a new experiment in which people participate in routine socioeconomic activities while complying with quarantine guidelines and rules that change as circumstances vary. In order to successfully maintain safety measures while simultaneously going about our daily lives, the people’s cooperation and participation are all we need – there is no secret other than this.
The Government will make thorough preparations for new daily lives with faith in our great people. We will make the most of an opportunity to achieve economic recovery faster than any other country in the world. We will further bolster the Republic of Korea’s status at the forefront of the world by surmounting this crisis in the fastest and most exemplary manner.