My term in office will end in a year. This is typically the time to think about how to bring things to a close. However, I feel the remaining one year is more important than any part of the past four years. We are still in a crisis, and the people are unable to return to their normal way of life.
The task left for my Administration is not only to overcome the current crisis but also to create a new future amid this crisis – a more commanding status for the Republic of Korea and better lives for the people. We have already seen signs of hope. My Administration started its tenure without the benefit of a transition period and has been sprinting without rest. Nonetheless, I believe it is my Administration’s unavoidable responsibility to charge forward without looking back until the day my term comes to an end.
It has already been a year and three months since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We never knew it would last this long. We never knew it would upend the lives of humanity to this magnitude. I extend my deepest sympathy to the people distressed by the infectious disease and anti-epidemic measures, the tremendous economic damage and unemployment, the unprecedented loss of ordinary life and immeasurable hardships.
What I’m truly thankful for is that the Republic of Korea has proved its potential by being more resilient in the face of crisis. No one could have predicted that Korea would emerge as a model country more exemplary than other advanced nations in the fight against COVID-19. However, we have done it. No one could have imagined that Korea would become the country to restore its economy to pre-COVID-19 levels the fastest among the OECD member states. However, we have successfully pulled it off beyond all expectations.
All of these things have been possible due to our great people. Our people have endured, banded and worked together even while in this long tunnel of tribulations. They have demonstrated a mature civic awareness admired around the world. Thanks to their own efforts, our people could rediscover the Republic of Korea’s resilience to crisis and take pride in themselves. Once more, I extend my profound reverence and gratitude to everyone. We renew our commitment to becoming the Government that will do its utmost to reciprocate the people’s support until the last day of its tenure.
I hope everyone holds on just a little bit more. An end to the war against COVID-19 is in sight. We are picking up speed with vaccination, nearing herd immunity. This herd immunity may not be able to terminate COVID-19 but will make the disease less dangerous and help us return to our normal routines.
We will ensure that rapid economic recovery will lead to the restoration of livelihoods. We will do everything possible to recover jobs and narrow the gaps and inequalities caused by COVID-19. All-out efforts will be made for our great transformation into a pacesetting economy, thereby securing a platform for Korea to take off as a leading nation. Together with our great people, the Government will rise above the crisis and vigorously proceed along the path toward recovery, inclusiveness and a leap forward.
We have yet to cast off anxiety about the COVID-19 situation. However, Korea’s disease control authorities are containing the situation within a manageable scope even while confirmed cases are increasing worldwide. In particular, our case fatality rate, the most important factor, is far lower than that of other countries. Vaccines administered to date and a domestically developed antibody treatment have been playing a significant role in reducing the mortality rate.
The Government has steadfastly adhered to the principles and basics of epidemic prevention and control, including preemptive tests, thorough epidemiological investigations and swift treatment. Our people have cooperated actively while withstanding inconveniences and economic damage. Thanks to all of these factors, Korea’s response to COVID-19 has set an example for the world so far. However, untraceable infections are continuing to spread, and concerns about COVID-19 variants are also growing. We cannot let our guard down even for a single moment. The Government will see to it that epidemic prevention and control is maintained more thoroughly until the situation is brought under control.
Vaccinations have made it possible to embark on the long journey to return to normal everyday life. Still, it is true that it would have been better if inoculation could have commenced a little bit earlier. Comparisons have also been made to countries that are vaccinating at a faster pace. However, even given our circumstances – our lack of a domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine and inability to make massive investments ahead of time – epidemic prevention and control authorities and professionals have set up elaborate, situation-specific plans to import and administer vaccines and are implementing them as scheduled, something which should be given due credit.
Importantly, our all-encompassing efforts – for which even businesses have pitched in – have helped to secure enough doses to vaccinate our population twice over even as competition to procure doses has been intensifying due to global shortages and unstable supplies. We will continue our efforts to secure additional vaccines to prepare for new virus strains and the possible need for third booster shots. We will also do this to be able to expand vaccine eligibility to include children and minors as well as to secure needed supplies for next year.
The pace of vaccinations is also picking up. Our goal has been revised upward to vaccinate more than 13 million people by the end of June. The administering of the first dose to everyone in the population who is eligible will be completed by the end of September, ensuring that herd immunity is achieved before our original target of sometime in November. The Government will make the most of our medical systems and infrastructure to enable large-scale vaccinations. I look forward to people’s active cooperation for their part.
Meanwhile, we will provide all available support to develop homegrown vaccines to secure vaccine sovereignty, bracing for a protracted COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, full support will be rendered so that Korea will become a global hub for vaccine production on the foundation of the world’s second largest biopharmaceutical manufacturing capacity.
Just a year ago today, the world was in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression: Borders were sealed off and global supply chains collapsed due to the impact of COVID-19. With supply and demand buffeted simultaneously around the world, the real economy and finance faced a complex crisis as they shrank together. Restricted business activities and operations entailed mass layoffs, causing an unprecedented economic crisis situation.
Just one year ago right here, I made a promise that we would put all possible capabilities into surmounting the economic crisis together with the people. I said that I would do my best to actually turn crises into opportunities, going beyond merely escaping from crises. Today, in this same place after one year, it is very fortunate for me to be able to report to the people that our economy has already recovered to the pre-COVID-19 level during the first quarter of this year – faster than that of any other OECD member. We have pulled off this achievement while resolutely enduring the economic crisis. This national accomplishment and people’s pride has been made possible thanks to our households, businesses and the Government working together in perfect harmony.
All economic indicators point to a solid recovery trend. Exports up to April this year hit a record high, and investments in equipment are increasing rapidly. Consumer spending has revived, and economic sentiment has improved to pre-COVID-19 levels. The outside world was the first to recognize the possibility of our economic rebound: International organizations have recently raised our growth prospects with some forecasting a growth of more than 4 percent this year. The Government will strive to achieve a faster and stronger economic rebound. All government capabilities will be mobilized and private-sector vitality will be enhanced so that our economy will grow at more than 4 percent for the first time in 11 years. We will ensure that aggressive expansionary fiscal spending spearheads the economic recovery and will prepare bold measures to boost consumption and domestic demand in step with how our epidemic prevention and control situation stabilizes. We will actively support preemptive corporate investments and, in particular, will do everything possible to obtain the best export figures ever.
Improved economic indicators do not immediately translate into the betterment of people’s lives. The crisis is further deepening inequality. Only when the warmth of economic recovery is tangible to everyone can we say “full economic recovery” has been achieved. The overriding requirement for full economic recovery is job recovery. The employment situation is improving, but it has yet to reach pre-crisis levels. We will focus our policy capabilities to ensure that the recent economic rebound trend leads to job recovery.
Above all, focus will be placed on creating quality jobs in the private sector. One positive change has been private-sector jobs taking the lion’s share of the climbing employment figures recorded last March. In order to create numerous jobs in such promising fields as the digital and green industries, we will expand investments while providing strong support for cultivating talented individuals and vocational training. In particular, communication with businesses will be strengthened to expand the groundwork for creating private-sector jobs: regulatory innovation, fostering new industries and helping to revitalize business ventures. With regard to the shipbuilding and other industries where employment is forecast to increase in tandem with economic recovery, we will provide support to help relevant businesses find skilled workers in a timely manner.
It is very poignant that the COVID-19 shock has increased discrepancies in employment. In particular, we will pay special attention to young people and women who are suffering the most. We will not hesitate to inject additional funds, if needed, while quickly disbursing the budget earmarked for job creation. The top priority will be placed on job creation until the end of my term, and we will do all we can to create even one more additional job.
When COVID-19-induced divides and inequality have been addressed, full economic recovery can finally be reached. Having chosen alleviating economic inequality as a national task, my Administration has vigorously pushed ahead with policies for income-led growth and inclusiveness since the beginning of its launch. We have consistently pushed for a number of policies, including raising the minimum wage, converting non-permanent employees to permanent workers, shortening working hours, raising the basic pension for senior citizens, introducing child allowances, making high school education free and strengthening health insurance coverage. Voices have been raised in opposition owing to concerns over the impact on the market. There have, however, been undeniable positive results: In the least, employment and social safety nets have been strengthened and distribution indicators have improved. I believe that this has given us the great strength needed to overcome COVID-19.
However, the COVID-19 crisis has reversed trends. The wounds COVID-19 inflicted and exposed run very deep. In particular, it has increased the difficulties facing people in need, further exacerbating inequality amid the COVID-19-induced divide. Direct and indirect damage from the virus itself is immense. Worse still, however, there are business lines and companies that have become more prosperous amid the socio-economic changes triggered by COVID-19 while others have been forced to close. Jobs are forecast to change even more.
We will continue to make efforts to ease the hardship facing industries, microbusiness owners and the self-employed who have been hit hard by COVID-19. The employment safety net will be further strengthened by increasing the number of eligible employment insurance subscribers and ensuring that the employment support program takes firm root. We will establish a real-time system to keep track of incomes, thereby ushering in an era of universal employment insurance and laying the foundation for systematic emergency support and close-knit welfare. We will also accelerate the implementation of policies for introducing injury and sickness benefits and abolishing the family support obligation criteria. On top of this, special attention will be paid to reducing the burdens and related divides facing caregivers that have been aggravated due to COVID-19.
Housing stability constitutes a key to people’s livelihoods. We will thoroughly block real estate speculation to at least address ever-widening wealth inequality. We will do our best to stabilize the real estate market while protecting genuine would-be homeowners without fail. In addition to private-sector housing supply, public-led housing supply measures will be implemented as planned without disruption. We will expand various policy support measures to ease burdens on genuine would-be homeowners so that low-income households, newlyweds and young people will be able to realize the dream of purchasing their own homes.
We will root out real estate corruption without fail. Learning a lesson from the fact that real estate speculation by some public officials and employees of state-run organizations has hurt the people immensely, we will complete fundamental, institutional reforms to establish a transparent and fair real estate transaction order and block unlawful speculation at its root.
Crisis is said to be another name for opportunity. The COVID-19 crisis has changed the international economic order. As the situation in each country became urgent, they began to seek ways to survive on their own rather than through openness and cooperation. Each country has further strengthened their sovereign role and is channeling huge state finance for their own benefits. They are also in life-or-death struggles in order to reorganize global supply chains in ways that prioritize their own needs.
Amid this grave situation, our economy is becoming stronger by turning crisis into opportunity. Our country joined the ranks of the world’s ten largest economies amid the crisis last year and outstripped one G7 member state in terms of GDP per capita for the first time in history. Our flagship industries such as semiconductors and batteries are taking the lead in global supply chains based on their unrivaled competitiveness. The shipbuilding industry has climbed back from near collapse to recapture the world’s No. 1 position in a resounding way. When it comes to automobile production, our country has also become one of the world’s top five powerhouses as domestic automakers have outpaced others with such eco-friendly cars as electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Strong manufacturing is saving our economy. The Government will fully support manufacturing’s innovation and revival.
In particular, we will strive to ensure that the signature industries in our economy continue to be at the forefront by surmounting strong international challenges. To this end, all-encompassing support for those national strategic industries will be provided for the sake of national interests.
The fiercest competition to secure global supply chains is occurring in the field of semiconductors. Amid the global economy’s grand transformation, semiconductors are becoming a sort of key infrastructure in all industrial areas. Our semiconductor manufacturers have been firmly maintaining the world’s No. 1 position by increasing exports for 10 consecutive months, and even system semiconductors are growing as one of our country’s flagship export items. While solidly keeping the status of our semiconductor industry as the world’s best, we will safeguard our national interests by using the current semiconductor boom as an opportunity for a new leap forward.
A year ago today, I announced from here that I would strongly push the transition to a pacesetting economy and the Korean New Deal project. The Korean New Deal was presented as a national project to promote the non-face-to-face and digital economies, resolve inequality and create jobs in preparation for the post-COVID-19 era. This led to the announcement of our country’s great transformation from a fast-follower type economy to a pacesetting one, from a carbon-dependent economy to a low-carbon one, and from an unequal society to an inclusive one. In line with this announcement, the Government has erected two pillars, the Digital New Deal and the Green New Deal, upon the foundation of employment and social safety nets and decided to inject 160 trillion won, the largest public investment of its kind since the founding of the Republic of Korea.
This may have been an unheard of initiative at the time but has since been proven the right direction. Now, it has become a common path taken worldwide, not ours alone. The task we presented in the Korean New Deal a year ago has now become a task for the times globally. Now, the Korean New Deal is right on course as fiscal investment is being made in earnest. It is spreading in local areas and the private sector at an increasing pace. Until the end of my term, I will vigorously implement the Korean New Deal and solidify the foundation for the Republic of Korea’s great transformation.
The three new industries which the Government has selected as new future growth engines – system semiconductors, biohealth and future cars – are firmly establishing themselves as key areas for a pacesetting economy. The data, network and artificial intelligence industries are leading technological innovation and pioneering new markets.
Startups and venture-based companies have emerged as the key players of our pacesetting economy and are growing to such an extent that there is talk of a second venture boom. There were only two unicorn companies in Korea in 2016, and that number has risen to 13. Even amid the economic crisis, the number of startups, the amount invested in business ventures, the value of accumulated funds and the number of jobs have all increased significantly.
In particular, the fact that former venture companies are emerging as the main players in the stock market shows that our industrial landscape is changing considerably. In the KOSDAQ market, the number of former venture companies in the top 20 list in terms of market capitalization increased to 13. In the benchmark KOSPI market as well, four former venture companies joined the ranks of the top 20. They are all leading biohealth and ICT businesses that are drawing attention amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It can be said that this second venture boom’s further expansion amid the COVID-19 crisis clearly demonstrates the dynamism of our economy. The Government will make new industries and innovative business ventures the future of our economy and will support them to the utmost so that they can grow faster and ascend more vigorously.
If there is a will, there is a way. It is the aspiration of 80 million Koreans to end the era of confrontation and conflict on the Korean Peninsula and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. I will consider the remaining one year of my term to be the last opportunity to move from an incomplete peace toward one that is irreversible.
Now, the time for long deliberations is also coming to an end. It is time to take action. The new Biden Administration in the United States has also completed reviewing its North Korea policy. This is the result of close consultation with us. We welcome the direction of the Biden Administration’s North Korea policy that aims to achieve the primary goal of the Korean Peninsula’s complete denuclearization through diplomacy with a flexible, gradual and practical approach by building upon the foundation of the Singapore Declaration.
The ROK-U.S. alliance will be solidified through the bilateral summit scheduled in late May. We will restore dialogue between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea and find a way to step once again toward peaceful cooperation by more closely coordinating policies toward North Korea.
I will not be pressed by time or become impatient during the remainder of my term. However, if there is an opportunity to restart the clock of peace and advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything I can. I look forward to North Korea responding positively. I hope that we will be able to build peace and move toward prosperity together. We have seen clear potential for issues to be solved diplomatically. I hope that the people will also join hands to create an atmosphere for dialogue. In particular, it is never desirable to dampen inter-Korean relations by violating inter-Korean agreements and current laws. I stress that the Government has no choice but to strictly enforce the laws.
The Republic of Korea has seen its national status significantly rise to an extent that the country has been invited to G7 summits for two consecutive years. Korea’s response to COVID-19 has become a global standard, and the world is paying attention to our economy’s astonishing resilience and growth potential. K-pop, K-beauty, K-food and K-content have become world-class brands, and people around the world are enthusiastic about Korean culture. The Republic of Korea is progressing into a soft power force thanks to our appeal in terms of the economy, culture, arts, science, healthcare and democracy as well as our contribution to the international community. This has become our pride.
We will strengthen our responsibilities and roles in the international community commensurate with our escalated national status. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I had visited 31 countries during 24 tours in all. I made 65 phone or video calls with the leaders of 48 countries and international organizations even amid the pandemic while making efforts to contribute to solidarity and cooperation in the international community. We will continue to actively participate in responding to infectious diseases and climate change – tasks facing all of humanity.
At the end of last year, the Government declared the goal of 2050 carbon neutrality. Carbon neutrality is an inevitable task which humanity must push forward together. The Government has made such new and renewable energy as solar and wind power a greater part of our energy mix while reducing the number of coal-fired power plants earlier than originally scheduled. We are also spurring the transition into a hydrogen economy. Public-private sector partnerships are being strengthened to accelerate energy transitions in different industries. A carbon-neutral roadmap is being devised for all areas of society, including power generation, manufacturing, transport, buildings and urban infrastructure.
The Government will make 2021 the first year of Korea’s carbon neutrality. The transition to a low-carbon economy is not just an eco-friendly policy. It will serve as an enormous opportunity to create new technologies and industries and create many jobs.
The P4G Summit to be held in Korea at the end of this month is a great opportunity to demonstrate our leading role while strengthening the international community’s cooperation in responding to climate change. We will make it an opportunity to raise the Republic of Korea’s status as a responsible middle-power nation.
The one year remaining in my term might become short if it is deemed short or long if deemed long. I will work with such commitment that this single year can determine the Republic of Korea’s destiny. I will confidently move forward along with the great people who have united and pushed ahead in the face of numerous crises. I will leave all assessments to the people and history and dedicate myself till the end. I sincerely ask for your support.