Dal Korean Overseas Information Service
A New Year Message from President Kim Dae-jung to the Nation
Jan. 1, 2001
The dawn of the first year of the 21st century has broken.
I hope that all of you are ushering in a new year full of hope and happiness. I also hope that during 2001 the people of our country will regain courage and make new accomplishments. The Government, for its part, will try and forge a blessed year for everyone without fail after reflecting on the past.
Today, I would like to look briefly back on the past three years with a fresh frame of mind. The Government of the People overcame the foreign exchange crisis and has done its utmost in undertaking restructuring in four major sectors while pushing the enhancement of knowledge and information capabilities. It has developed democracy, enhanced human rights and provided a foundation for public welfare. Moreover, it has greatly raised the status of our nation in the international community through active diplomacy and the successful Third ASEM. It has opened a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our history by realizing the first ever inter-Korean summit in the half century since the division of the country.
However, we are faced with a difficult reality right now, especially in the economic sector. Business is slow; stock prices have plummeted with millions of investors taking huge losses; and unemployment is increasing. A sense of crisis is heightening, and public morale has dropped. This is deplorable, indeed.
It is true that there were external factors, but our own responsibility is greater. Because of the relief we felt over the fact that we had successfully overcome the foreign exchange crisis, we failed to complete restructuring. That, more than anything else, was the most important cause. Had we carried out reform more thoroughly in the financial, corporate, public and labor sectors, the situation would not have been as difficult as it is today.
The direction of reform was right, but we failed to implement it thoroughly.
As I acutely feel that all this is my responsibility as President, I apologize and sympathize with the people. At the same time, I pledge to you that, during 2001, the Government and I will tackle national policies with renewed resolution to overcome the difficulties and restore hope.
This year, the opening of the 21st century, will be a truly important year for the fate of our country. It depends on us this year to determine whether or not we will be able to lay the foundation for a first-rate nation by making another economic leap forward.
If we fail to complete restructuring because of fear of the pain, we would not be able to avoid devastation. However, if we can overcome today's pain and complete reform in the four major sectors, we would be able to make a great leap forward tomorrow. This is the unanimous evaluation of the Korean economy by all economic organizations and economists around the world.
We have the potential. We must do it. We can do it.
As I promised, I will complete the second stage of basic reform tasks in the four major sectors by February. From then on, we will switch to a system of constant reform controlled by the market. I will let competitive enterprises survive while not hesitating to allow unhealthy companies to close down.
I will guarantee legal and peaceful demonstrations for the rights of workers. But illegal, violent demonstrations will never be tolerated. The world is watching us. Only productive labor-management practices benefiting both companies and workers can assure us of a bright future.
I will carry out thorough financial reform in the new year so that the words, "insolvent financial institution," will disappear for good from this land. I will also make efforts to make the public sector a model of reform.
Once we complete reform in the four major areas -- the corporate, labor, financial and public sectors -- our economy will recover in the second half of this year, and we will take a powerful step forward toward becoming a leading economy.
In order to implement national policies, the economy, more than anything else, must be competitive. But the economic strength, of course, does not count for everything. The public can only enjoy full freedom and happiness when all areas are equally healthy.
In this respect, I decided on five goals for national policies for this year. They are the realization of a democratic nation respecting human rights, the grand unity of the people, the construction of a strong knowledge-based economy, the protection of the middle and low classes, and the realization of inter-Korean peace and cooperation. I hope that we can carry them out faithfully together.
First, I will make further efforts to realize a nation characterized by democracy and human rights. I will realize without fail constructive politics through dialogue and cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties. I will also try to get reform laws enacted including those on human rights and anti-corruption and the national security law revised.
Second, I will make all-out efforts to realize grand unity of the people. We cannot expect to enhance national competitiveness or achieve inter-Korean reconciliation unless the people of our country are united. By resolutely eliminating politics that foster regional conflict, I will implement policies and establish regulations for the balanced development among regions and classes.
Third, in order to bring about another economic leap forward, the Government will help build a strong knowledge-driven economy at all costs through the simultaneous development of manufacturing, the information and communications industry and the bio-industry. Last year, Korea became the first country to construct a national network of superspeed information communications. The growth rate of Korea's Internet users is the fastest in the world. The number far exceeds that of many European and Asian nations. By 2003, electronic government will be a reality, solidifying our position as a leading knowledge-based country.
Fourth, the Government will make sure that the everyday life of middle and low-income families is stabilized. As the Government strives to guarantee minimum living expenses for all households and expand unemployment insurance, job training, incentives for hiring unemployed workers and other programs, the social safety net and productive welfare will be strengthened and settled firmly. Training in information skills will be carried out consistently. Small and medium-sized firms will be revitalized, and traditional markets will be reformed efficiently. Measures will be developed to rejuvenate the agricultural economy.
Finally, the Government will steadily push forward its inter-Korean policies in an effort to reduce South-North tensions and promote bilateral exchanges, heralding the age of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. By further solidifying the national consensus and supra-partisan cooperation, the Government will ensure that South-North relations win full public trust. Meanwhile, a thorough national security posture will have to be maintained until peace is completely established on the peninsula.
At this point, I would like to remind you of our amazing potential and patriotism. Only two years ago, the whole nation rallied as one and overcame the foreign exchange crisis that was much more severe than the current one. We have the capability to settle problems through dialogue. We were able to draw up solutions through dialogue in the medical dispute as well as the planned strikes at the Korea Electric Power Corporation, Korea Telecom and the Korean National Railroad. A major strike by the financial workers unions ended through successful dialogue. It is true that the political parties engaged in confrontation, but dialogue is continuing nevertheless.
With the support of the great Korean people in this first year of the 21st century, I intend to establish a solid base for a fresh new start in government administration and another successful economic take-off.
As we implement the reform programs on schedule during the first half of this year, the country should be able to make a soft landing for stable growth from the second half of the year. We can turn the current difficulty into an opportunity to transform ourselves and emerge as a viable global power.
I am confident about our future. Let us not lose faith in ourselves. We can overcome all the hurdles when we have confidence. We proved this during the recovery from the foreign exchange crisis. Self-defeatism has a way of feeding upon itself. I want you to trust me and join me in coping with the difficult situation together. As long as we have hope, there will be a solution.
I do not seek popularity. I will walk the path of justice and principles. I am determined to lead the administration to success. But I am in dire need of your support.
Let us fling the door to the 21st century wide open and dash forward with hope together.
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© Valerio Anselmo