Today we are joined by Professor Eom Ji-yong, dean of KAIST Graduate School of Green Growth, who will present an agenda item. Let’s welcome him with a round of applause.
The spread of COVID-19 is showing signs of abating slightly and the countdown to vaccinations has begun. Also, one locally developed treatment has come into use under conditional approval. Still, there is a long, rough way to go before a complete return to normal routines. This era with COVID-19 is going to persist for a considerable period, becoming a fate that not only Korea but all of humanity must accept. We need to acknowledge this stifling, exhausting reality and overcome it in a level-headed manner. Amid a crisis, we first have to squarely see where we are doing well and where we are struggling. Based on this, we have to strive to do better where we have been doing well while finding practical ways to overcome hardships in the areas where we are struggling.
COVID-19’s impact on the whole world is enormous, indeed, but we have bravely responded without giving in to the crisis. In this process, Korea has demonstrated splendid capabilities. In addition to the excellence of Korea’s response to COVID-19, we have made remarkable progress in all areas of our society during the battle against the virus.
Amid the crisis, the Korean economy has shown even stronger resilience. As evidenced by such major macroeconomic indicators as economic growth rate, GDP, per capita income, sovereign credit rating and fiscal soundness, no one can deny that the international community rates Korea as the country that has surmounted the economic crisis in the most exemplary manner. This is the result of actively and effectively responding to the economic crisis through unprecedented policy measures while operating an emergency economic system with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance playing a pivotal role.
We’ve seen noteworthy progress in another indicator as well. World-renowned credit rating agency Moody’s gave Korea its highest grade when evaluating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors – placing it above other advanced countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. ESG factors are becoming new criteria crucial for assessing sovereign credit ratings and business activities. The Government and domestic businesses achieved this very meaningful result by expanding socially responsible and sustainable investments and actively responding to other changing demands of the times.
The Republic of Korea’s ability to innovate has also been highly evaluated. Korea outdid other highly competitive countries in the Bloomberg Innovation Index, achieving the top score. This result attests to the international community’s strong confidence in the Korean economy’s potential and sustainability, including the growth of new industries, value-added manufacturing, R&D and the track record for international patent applications.
There was also significant progress in the way Korea’s democracy is being assessed internationally. In the Democracy Index released by The Economist, five years after being labeled a “flawed democracy,” Korea has removed that disgrace and rejoined the “full democracy” ranks. Also, in the Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International, Korea’s standing has climbed as many as 18 steps since our Administration was launched, recording new highs in both score and ranking.
The positive assessment by the international community is a signal that our society is moving in the right direction. This is the result of not slackening the pace of reform in any area of our society while concentrating national capabilities on prevailing over the crisis. This national achievement that our people have accomplished is a source of pride that can never be disparaged.
However, these outstanding indicators cannot provide practical comfort to people struggling to make ends meet every day. The Government cannot afford, even for a moment, to stop its work to alleviate the difficulties that people face making a living. Most of all, more efforts should be put into reducing inequality and gaps, a task of the times that has become more evident. The Government will devise multifaceted measures to provide damage relief to the people in need while concentrating its efforts on overcoming the employment crisis.
We will also make all-out efforts to transition into a pacesetting economy and make investments for the future, thereby building a solid foundation before the end of my term. In particular, the Regionally Balanced New Deal, which we have just launched, will be accelerated. Through regionally based Digital and Green new deals and the revitalization of new industries, we will make sure that people will sense the effects of killing three or even four birds with one stone in the pursuit of balanced national development, invigorating local economies, creating quality jobs and generating income for local residents.
We will also make full-fledged efforts toward 2050 carbon neutrality, which has become a global trend. The efforts to promote energy transition and low-carbonization in all industries will be accelerated. At the same time, we will further advance those industries where we lead – such as electric vehicles and the hydrogen economy – and strongly push ahead with low-carbon technological innovation as a national strategy.
Since it is an unprecedented situation, fully marshaled national capabilities are the driving force needed to overcome the crisis. There has never been a time when a new infectious disease swept the world for such a prolonged period since the establishment of the Republic of Korea. Nor have there ever been bans or restrictions on the business operations of the self-employed for such a long time due to epidemic prevention and control measures. Moreover, the Government has never employed such unprecedented expansionary fiscal policies as four supplementary budgets and three rounds of emergency relief payments to respond to a crisis. We are on an untrodden path in terms of crises and relevant responses.
The Government will do everything it can to boldly devise sufficient plans to surmount the crisis without missing an opportunity – within the affordable scope of state finances. However, it is difficult to determine what is best given the current situation. For this task, society as a whole should gather its wisdom and politicians, in particular, should work together in a bipartisan manner regardless of the various parties’ political interests. The ultimate responsibility lies in the Government. I ask everyone to jointly collect insights and come together so that the Government can fulfill its duty.