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Opening Remarks by President Moon Jae-in at the New Year Press Conference

Fellow Koreans,


Every single day over the past year, it has hit home that the ordinary citizen is the greatest force in our society. On the plaza where the candlelight rallies took place, I could see each and every ordinary citizen rather than the crowd. It dawned on me that a legacy carried on from a mother to a son and from a father to a daughter is more important than any historic megatrend. What made me optimistic about our future were ordinary families who held candles all through the winter and went back to their daily lives to the full. 


We were able to write a new chapter in the history of democracy because of those courageous ordinary individuals and families. I am truly proud of them. Thanks to them, we can speak of hope once again today. 


My fellow Koreans readily gave their invaluable time for the country.  You gave us the strength to set the nation on the right path. Now is the time for the country to answer the call of the people.  I have to promise a more just and peaceful, safer and happier society. That is what we can call a properly functioning country.


In the New Year of 2018, the goal of my Administration is to protect ordinary people and make their lives even better.


I will take the determination and demands of the people as a guiding principle. I will see to it that citizens can personally feel changes in their lives.



Fellow Koreans,


The first thing I did as President was to install an employment situation board in my office. It was to practice the governing philosophy of the “people-centered economy.” Jobs are the mainstay of the economy and the foundation of individual lives. At the core of the people-centered economy are jobs.


Last year, my Administration overhauled government support systems and drew up a supplementary budget that would serve as a pump-primer for the creation of a greater number of decent jobs. Non-regular workers in the public sector began to be given regular employment status. A grand compromise reached after eight years made it possible to raise the statutory minimum wage by 16.4 percent this year. There are a growing number of businesses that are taking the initiative in helping resolve job issues. Labor and management also started meaningful efforts for mutually beneficial job opportunities.


The Government will continue to expand such changes throughout this year. More than anything else, the increase in minimum wage is a significant decision to transform economic fundamentals. It will serve as the bedrock for income-driven growth by guaranteeing the quality of life of low-wage workers and increasing household income. Support measures to mitigate the burdens of microbusiness owners and small and medium-sized businesses will be carried out as scheduled for mutual benefit and common prosperity.


It is projected that the population of young people in their late 20s who will enter the job market will increase by 390,000 between last year and 2021, but the number will rapidly decrease beginning in 2022. The issue of youth employment is affected by such changes in the demographic structure. For this reason, extraordinary approaches will be required over the next three to four years. I will take up the employment of young people as a national agenda item and continue to check on the situation in person.


It is also crucial to close the employment gap and improve the quality of jobs. Fundamental job reform should be achieved through shifting non-regular workers to regular employment, narrowing the wage gap, reducing working hours and promoting job sharing. Importantly, reduction in working hours is an inevitable task for the sake of ensuring a life with dignity.


It will only be possible when there is participation by and cooperation from all economic players. I will work to achieve that goal, focusing on social dialogue and a grand compromise. I will hold meetings with anyone, whether they are labor or management, large conglomerates or small and medium-sized businesses, regular workers or non-regular workers. I will help restore a dialogue among labor, management and the Government. 


I hope the National Assembly will also take the lead in job reform by enacting laws to reduce working hours.


The Government, for its part, will continue its endeavors to achieve innovative growth and a fair economy.


Efforts for innovative growth must succeed not only for identifying future growth engines but also for creating quality jobs. By the end of this year, K-City, a test site for self-driving cars, will be built in Hwaseong. Some 2,000 smart factories will be newly constructed. A new model for a smart city will be adopted in several locations. I hope the people will be able to see for themselves the results of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and innovative growth.


A fair economy is the groundwork for making a society free of foul play and unfair privileges and a nation in which all people prosper together. Corrupt employment practices, abuse of power and other deep-rooted evils closely knitted into our daily lives will be eradicated without fail. Endeavors will be made to ensure that all citizens will be guaranteed fair opportunities so that they will not feel unjustly treated.


Chaebol or conglomerate reform is important from the perspective of returning economic benefits to small and medium-sized businesses and the public in addition to making a transparent economy. The unfair business practices of family-owned firms awarding exclusive contracts to their subsidiaries will be rooted out by applying stringent law enforcement. Evasive tactics by chaebol owners and their families to expand their dominance will be reined in. To improve corporate governance, shareholders’ voting rights will be increased and a stewardship code will be introduced.


This is not intended to suppress or shrink business activities. On the contrary, it is believed that it will help sharpen the global competitive edge of large conglomerates.


Innovation should also be brought into the finance sector so that it can support the people and the development of industries. Such wrong practices as abuses of power and illegitimate lending by financial institutions will be eliminated and restrictions on new entry into the financial sector will be streamlined for the development of diverse financial business operations. The mis-selling of financial products will be prevented to protect consumers. In addition, financing for low-income households and small retail businesses will be greatly increased.  



Fellow citizens, 


Last year, there occurred several lamentable disasters and accidents. Every time they took place, I felt heavyhearted as if the President and the Government were responsible for them.  


In the New Year, my Administration will do its utmost to build a safe Republic of Korea. Public safety will be one of the top priorities in running state affairs, and it will be managed in a systemic manner. In order to deal with large-scale disasters and accidents, the Government will improve the system so that a rapid response will be possible at all times, instead of becoming a one-off countermeasure. 


With the goal to halve deaths in three areas by 2022, the Government will intensively carry out three projects to protect the lives of the people by preventing suicides and promoting traffic and industrial safety.


The implementation of safety measures concerning infectious diseases, foods and chemical products will be examined on a regular basis, and the results will be reported to the people. We have to root out child abuse, youth violence and gender-based violence, and to this end, the Government will focus on implementing pan-governmental projects. We will build a safe Republic of Korea without fail, a promise we made to the student victims of the Sewol ferry incident. 



My fellow Koreans, 


Last year, I met with many people; one who was forced to give up her own life to take care of a family member suffering from dementia; a young person who ran into a dead end through business failure, and a working mom who was concerned over her child left alone after school. Each and every one of them is a valued citizen of our country. 


This year Korea`s per capita income will reach US$30,000. The number itself is not important. What really matters is to ensure that the people actually enjoy a quality of life befitting a per capita income of US$30,000. 


From now on, the country will strive to better protect the people. With relevant policies and budgets, the Government will take care of the people in a meticulous manner. 


Starting this month, health insurance coverage will be enhanced, and a system by which the Government takes responsibility for dementia patients will be implemented in earnest. The Government will also strive to lower basic living expenses by enhancing state and public responsibilities for medical care, housing, education and childcare. Overworking must not persist in our society. It is impossible to lead a happy life when long hours and overexertion become routine. The Government will focus on reducing working hours and ensuring that people can leave work on time. 


From February this year, the maximum legal lending interest rate will be lowered to 24 percent, which will also be applied to private money lenders. The Government will help reduce the debts of those who are incapable of repaying small, long-overdue debts. In July, credit card fees will be additionally lowered. This is expected to be of help to working class people and microbusiness owners. 


The fund of funds, which was created by the Government`s contribution of 860 billion won last year, will be released for use. On top of this, an innovative venture fund of 10 trillion won will be raised beginning in March. Through these funds, the Government will render financial support to young people with creative ideas to help them take on the challenges of starting a business. Support for their technology development and pioneering of new markets will also be provided. 


In March, the Government will abolish joint and several liability systems in the institutions that provide policy loans. The exclusive funds for the program to support the restarting of a business will be channeled in earnest to those who need them. As a result, it will be possible in our society to take on the challenge of starting a business without fear and pick up the challenge again even after a failure. 


A new vacation support program for workers will be started in July. If businesses and workers put aside some portion of travel expenses, the Government will provide additional financial support. The voucher distributed to low-income families for cultural activities will be raised to 70,000 won per person from the current 60,000 won, and an income tax deduction on expenditures on culture, including on books and live performances, will be newly introduced. I hope that the people will be able to better enjoy culture and lead an enjoyable life. 


Starting in September, the basic pension for senior citizens will be raised to 250,000 won from 200,000. The Government will take care of the health of senior citizens. Last year, the proportion of out-of-pocket expenses in obtaining dentures and treating severe dementia patients was lowered significantly. In the second half of this year, the ratio of out-of-pocket expenses in obtaining a dental implant will be reduced to 30 percent from 50 percent. 


The Government will jointly shoulder the burden of childcare. Beginning in September, parents will be given a monthly allowance of 100,000 won for each child under the age of five. An additional 450 reliable national and public daycare centers will be newly created this year. The quality of childcare services will be improved as the government subsidy per child increases by 9.6 percent. A pilot project to expand extended daycare services to cities, counties and districts will begin in the first half of this year. The Government will ease the concern of working moms. It will strive to build a society where women can still lead their life pursuing their own values when they get married, give birth and raise children.   


For the betterment of the lives of the people, the Government will innovate itself. This innovation will be geared toward the people. The Administration will be centered around the realization of social values. The Government will strive to carry out what it is supposed to do through the participation and cooperation of the people. By innovating outdated practices in the civil service, the Government will be reborn as a trustworthy organization. My Administration will come up with a comprehensive implementation plan for government innovation by the end of February.  



My fellow Koreans, 


The candles the people held up high for democracy are now permeating the lives of the people as well as every nook and cranny of our society. At the end of last year, some good news was heard from Incheon International Airport Corporation, the first destination of my on-site visit following the inauguration. Management and labor came to an agreement to convert 10,000 irregular workers into regular workers. Those who work for public safety and life as well as those who work on a continued basis have to be employed as regular workers. That is the common sense and justice those who held candles longed for.  


On October 22 last year, the Republic of Korea opened a new chapter of deliberative democracy. The issue surrounding the Shin Kori No. 5 and 6 nuclear reactors, a cause of long-standing conflicts, was settled in a mature manner through a public deliberation committee. A mature democratic society, in which people engage in dialogue, compromise and respect the outcome, is the direction toward which those who held candles wanted the Republic of Korea to move. 


The people of the Republic of Korea are holding up the candles of democracy higher. Now is high time to weave the spirit of the candlelight demonstrations into the fabric of our everyday lives, thereby institutionalizing it. 


 

My fellow Koreans, 


The constitution can be likened to a vessel containing the rights and duties of the people. The people`s capabilities and understanding of their rights as well as the responsibility and role of a nation have greatly changed compared to 30 years ago. With the old constitution that was written 30 years ago, it is impossible to represent the will of the people.  


In order to precisely reflect the will of the people in running state affairs, popular sovereignty has to be enhanced. It is also necessary to expand the basic rights of the people and strengthen decentralization and autonomy.     


Holding local elections and a referendum on a constitutional revision on the same day is a pledge to the people. All major parties and their candidates promised that during the last presidential election. It is also a way to reduce social costs. Holding the referendum separately after missing this opportunity would cost at least an additional 120 billion won in tax money. A constitutional revision should be a source of hope for the people from the beginning of its discussion, not a political scheme. Neither should it be a black hole that impedes the implementation of numerous tasks related to state affairs. 


There is not much time left if the local elections and the referendum on the constitutional revision are to be held together. I again ask the National Assembly to take the lead with a sense of responsibility. I urge the National Assembly to reach an agreement on revising the Constitution. 


The Government will also make preparations. I have always stressed that the constitutional revision must be led by the people?that it involves their participation and reflects their opinions in both its content and process. I, as the President, will do all I can to keep this promise to the people. I will do all I can as President to fulfill the promise. While waiting for the National Assembly to reach an agreement, if necessary, the Government will prepare a constitutional amendment bill that reflects the opinions of the people and consult the National Assembly. 



Fellow Koreans, 


The lives of the people need to be stabilized through the settlement of peace on the Korean Peninsula. There should never be another war on the Korean Peninsula. The ultimate goal of our diplomacy and national defense is to prevent a war from recurring on the Peninsula. I do not want the immediate unification of the Korean Peninsula. My goal is to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and solidify peace while I am in office. 


The people who set the country right serve as a stepping stone or a milestone in diplomacy and national security. They are the source of power that will bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. Last year, relying on that power, I was able to consistently proclaim the principles of peace on the Korean Peninsula to the four major powers involved in issues related to the Peninsula and the rest of the international community. As a middle power standing tall in the international community, the Korean government was able to announce the New Northern Policy and the New Southern Policy. I was also able to continue to stress the need for dialogue in inter-Korean relations. 


A senior-level dialogue between the two Koreas was held yesterday. An inter-Korean communication that was once severed has been restored. North Korea agreed to participate in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. U.S. President Donald Trump said he supported the inter-Korean dialogue and the fostering of a peaceful atmosphere through the PyeongChang Olympics. The postponement of the Korea-U.S. joint military drill was also agreed to. 


It is only a beginning. We have to successfully host the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We need to strive until the end to make it an Olympics of peace. Furthermore, we have to solve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully. We have to make it a turning point toward an improvement in inter-Korean relations and peace on the Korean Peninsula. 


I will do my best to make this year a new start for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In the process, I will more closely cooperate with related countries, including our ally the United States, China and Japan, and the rest of the international community. 


If peace begins in PyeongChang, I will turn it into a stable system that takes root. To solve the North Korean nuclear issue and settle peace, I will pursue more dialogue and cooperative projects.    


I stress once again; the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a process toward peace and a goal at the same time. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which was declared by the two Koreas, is our fundamental position that can never be compromised.


I will light a candle of peace on the Korean Peninsula. I will remove the anxiety and distrust that are deeply embedded in the individual lives of the people. I will take a step forward along with the people in an effort to help create an everyday life that is peaceful and safe, and with no worry over war.  



Fellow Koreans, 


Last week, I invited the victims of sexual slavery, known as comfort women, to Cheong Wa Dae. The country that could not even protect young girls in the flower of youth 80 years ago has left them with deep wounds again. It led me to think yet again about what the reason for the existence of a nation is. 


The fact that there was an official agreement between Korea and Japan cannot be denied. It is also important to deal with Korea’s relationship with Japan carefully. 


However, a wrong knot has to be untied. A new road cannot be paved where truth is overlooked. We will return to the principle of truth and justice. Setting history right is to teach human society a lesson and make concerted efforts so that such a horrible incident does not occur ever again. I believe this is a historical duty assigned to me as President.  


The Government will restore the honor and dignity of the victims. It will take actions to heal their emotional wounds. 


Throughout the process, we will listen to the voices of the victims again and again. I wholeheartedly hope that the victims will be able to live the remainder of their lives with peace of mind.


I also hope that Korea and Japan will be able to become true friends that understand each other. Korea and Japan share many aspects of their cultural background and history. The two countries should make concerted efforts to accomplish mutual prosperity and development. As I have made it clear so far, I will pursue the historical issue and the forward-looking bilateral cooperation separately and make related efforts. 


When the relationship between Korea and Japan moves forward toward the future, I believe the two countries will be able to closely cooperate in various substantive areas, including the North Korean nuclear issue. 



Fellow Koreans, 


Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. It will also be the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Korea that inherits the legitimacy of the Provisional Government. The Republic of Korea has come this far with the strength of the people: from the time when the Provisional Government was founded to restore popular sovereignty to the time when the people held candlelight protests to realize popular sovereignty and launch a new administration. The path the Republic of Korea will take going forward should constitute the path of the people. Creating a condition and environment in which the people can enjoy happiness is a mission for all of us this year. It is the path the Republic of Korea should take looking toward another 100 years.  


I will make efforts to achieve a year when ordinary lives foster democracy and ordinary lives get even better.  


Thank you very much. 

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