President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers inauguration speech in front of the National Assembly in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
My fellow Koreans, seven and a half million fellow compatriots living overseas, fellow citizens around the world, I stand before you today, humbled by the trust and responsibility that you have given me and mindful of my solemn duty to rebuild this great nation. It is our generation’s calling to build a nation that espouses liberal democracy and ensures a thriving market economy, a nation that fulfills its responsibility as a trusted member of the international community, and a nation that truly belongs to the people.
Thank you, my fellow Koreans, for gracing this historic occasion with your presence.
I am also deeply grateful to former President Moon Jae-in and Park Geun-hye, and Her Excellency Ms. Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, His Excellency Mr. Faustin Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic, His Excellency Mr. Wang Qishan, Vice President of the People‘s Republic of China, Her Excellency Ms. Diah Permata Megawati Soekarnoputri, Former President of the Republic of Indonesia, His Excellency Mr. Douglas Craig Emhoff, Second Gentleman of the United States of America, His Excellency Mr. George J. Furey, Speaker of the Senate of Canada, His Excellency Mr. Hayashi Yoshimasa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and dignitaries who have come from abroad to celebrate this occasion and other distinguished guests for their presence.
I wish to thank and pay my utmost respect to the Korean people for enduring many difficulties for the last two years in the battle against COVID-19.
I also wish to thank all the doctors, nurses and care givers for their devotion. Their professionalism is what helped all of us overcome this unprecedented crisis.
My fellow Koreans and citizens around the world,
Today, we are faced with multiple crises. Pandemics that are fundamentally altering the way we live; fast-evolving trade regimes and rearrangements in the global supply chains that are impacting our economies; climate change, food and energy crises that are causing havoc around the world; armed conflicts and wars are complex crises that no one country or a group of countries can resolve on their own. Such complex, multi-faceted crises are casting a long and dark shadow over us.
Domestically, many countries, including Korea, are experiencing record-low growth and rising unemployment. Many countries are witnessing an ever-widening gap in wages and polarization within society. Internal strife and discord are deepening which has led many of our fellow citizens to lose their sense of community and belonging.
The political process which has the responsibility to address and resolve these issues has failed due to a crisis in democracy and one of the main reasons for such failure is the troubling spread of anti-intellectualism.
When individuals disagree on certain issues and seek to reach a compromise, they can only do so when scientific facts and the truth works as the basis of their discussions. This is rationalism and intellectualism that is the foundation of democracy.
Unfortunately, truth is oftentimes bent out of shape and grossly distorted due to conflicts between nations or because of animosity between different groups within society. When we choose to see only what we want to see and hear only what we want to hear; when the masses bludgeon and silence those who do not agree with them and do this through brute force – this is how anti-intellectualism gravely weakens our democracy and puts us in peril. This is what shakes our trust in democracy. When this happens, it makes it even more difficult for us to effectively resolve the many complex challenges that we collectively face.
However, nothing is impossible. We can overcome the challenges that we face today and the ones that we will undoubtedly have to face in the future. Koreans have a long and proud history that demonstrates our unshakable resolve. Throughout our history, we came together in times of crises. Each of us pitched in and contributed whatever we could. Koreans never succumbed; we became stronger and wiser.
As the new President, I am deeply humbled by the awesome duty to lead our nation out of the latest crises. I am also grateful to be entrusted by the people of this great nation. I am confident that once again, we will overcome.
I also look forward to working with our fellow citizens around the globe to solve problems not only within our own borders but also those that take place outside.
My fellow Koreans and citizens around the world,
Belief in shared values is paramount if we are to successfully overcome these challenges. And the most important core value is freedom. We must clearly define – and unequivocally reaffirm – the real meaning of freedom.
Human history shows that when political and economic freedom reigns supreme, that is where prosperity and abundance flourished. When prosperity and economic freedom flourishes, that is when freedom reaches even the darkest corners.
Freedom is a universal value. Every citizen and every member of society must be able to enjoy freedom. If one’s freedom is infringed upon or left uncorrected, this is an assault on everyone’s freedom. Freedom is not something only for the winner to enjoy. In order for everyone to enjoy freedom, everyone must be allowed to enjoy a certain level of economic freedom; everyone must be guaranteed the right to receive quality education and everyone must be granted the freedom to access and experience various cultural activities. One cannot be considered a true citizen absent such freedom.
If one’s freedom is violated or one is denied the basic necessities that are fundamental to being a free citizen, then the rest of society must come together and make amends.
Individual countries must do so but global citizens must also come together in solidarity to address these injustices if and when they arise. Hunger, poverty, abuse of power and armed conflict strips away our individual freedom and robs us of our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. We, as global citizens who enjoy real freedom, must never turn a blind eye when freedom is attacked.
Freedom abides by the rules and seeks to aid others in need. Freedom is about caring for our fellow humans in the spirit of solidarity and fraternity.
My fellow Koreans,
Now turning to domestic agenda, I would like to emphasize a few points.
Our society is plagued by division and social conflict which is threatening our freedom and our liberal democratic order. It is undermining our potential to attain greater societal advancement.
I do not believe we can overcome this problem without first achieving rapid and sustainable growth.
Rapid growth will open up new opportunities. It will improve social mobility, thereby helping us rid of the fundamental obstacles that are aggravating social divide and conflicts.
It is imperative for us to make that big leap. It is critical that we achieve rapid growth and this will only be possible through science, technology and innovation. Science, technology and innovation – they will protect our democracy, expand freedom and our inalienable rights to let our people enjoy a sustainable life of dignity.
Scientific progress, technological advancement and breakthrough innovation cannot be attained alone. We must work together with other like-minded nations that respect freedom and encourage creativity.
My fellow citizens, here in Korea and those abroad,
Liberal democracy creates lasting peace and peace is what safeguards our freedom. Peace is guaranteed when the international community that respects freedom and human rights come together as one.
Peace is not simply avoiding war – real peace is about allowing freedom and prosperity to flourish. Real peace is a lasting peace. Real peace is a sustainable peace.
Peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia is the same – our region cannot be exempt from threats that endanger the peace of other regions.
We, as global citizens, must make a stand against any attempt that aims to take our freedom away, abuse human rights or destroy peace.
While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programs are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat.
If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people.
North Korea’s denuclearization will greatly contribute to bringing lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.
My fellow Koreans,
Korea is the tenth largest economy in the world. It is incumbent upon us to take on a greater role befitting our stature as a global leader. We must actively protect and promote universal values and international norms that are based on freedom and respect for human rights. We must take on an even greater role in expanding freedom and human rights not just for ourselves but also for others. The international community expects us to do so. We must answer that call.
It is futile to differentiate between domestic issues and international issues. When we assume a greater international role, we can also find the right solution for many of our domestic challenges.
I solemnly pledge today that I will do my utmost to elevate Korea into a country that truly belongs to the people. A country based on the pillars of freedom, human rights, fairness and solidarity; a country that is respected by others around the world. Let us embark on this journey together.