Good morning, fellow Koreans,
The year 2013 has dawned. On the first day of the New Year, big auspicious fluffy flakes of snow fell. Traditionally, the first snow of the year has been regarded as portending a rich harvest and propitious year. I hope the New Year will bring great joy to the nation and all your families.
On the first morning of the New Year, I visited the Seoul National Cemetery as I always have. Paying tribute to our patriotic forefathers resting under the blanket of white snow, I prayed that the nation’s fortunes would further prosper throughout the whole year.
Looking back, Korea’s modern and contemporary history has been punctuated with stories of progress and miracles unprecedented in the world. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History was opened last month, and you can see for yourself the epic panorama of the proud, painstakingly written stories of Korea.
Every single exhibit there, including the March First Declaration of Korean Independence, a small attic and a sewing factory where our sisters used to work late into the night, is a living relic reminiscent of our sorrow and agony as well as our hope and resolve.
I recommend that our children and young people visit the Museum because there they will be able to encounter stories wrought with the blood, sweat and tears of our grandfathers and grandmothers, our fathers and mothers. Looking around the exhibits, I, too, felt my heart touched and, at the same time, was amazed at how much things have changed.
Some six decades ago, no one could even dream of the Republic of Korea of today. Over the years, Korea’s per capita income has increased 280 times, and its trade has witnessed a whopping 3,000-fold jump. The country that was not able to feed and clothe its people without receiving international aid has now become an aid donor. It is the only country to achieve such a status among the extremely impoverished countries that gained independence after the end of the Second World War.
All these achievements are not something we took away from other countries by force, but they are the fruit we harvested with our own hands through hard work. That is why they are more valuable to us, and we take more pride in them. I deeply thank our ancestors and parents, and send applause and warm compliments to all our people.
I hope the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History will serve as a melting pot of national unity that imbues the people with great pride and as a creative center for young people to envision a better future. I am certain that the Museum will become a major draw that inspires and encourages people around the world as well.
Though we cannot sense it clearly, Korea has unawares emerged as a nation from which many countries around the world want to learn. In 2011, a renowned foreign magazine evaluated Korea, noting that long ago the world had taken note of Korea as a model for growth and newly emerging power, but that Koreans themselves did not seem to be aware of the fact.
In particular, for developing nations, the Republic of Korea represents a model for political, economic and social progress as well as a viable vision for national revival. This is because Korea, which was once on a par with them, has taken an unparalleled quantum leap in development; it is a telling success story.
In this connection, besides semiconductors, automobiles and cellular phones, there are far more goods made in Korea that people in the world want to buy than we expect. In addition, Korea’s green growth policy and river restoration projects appeal greatly not to speak of the Saemaul Undong or development know-how.
Korea has also distinguished itself from other nations in promoting clean, transparent and efficient institutions by making efforts to get rid of corruption and irregularities as well as inefficiency. All these combined to give birth to the term "the Korean example." Korea serves as a role model for countries that have embarked on projects to promote national progress. As we are now living in an era when what Korea does well sets an example for other nations and encourages them, it is necessary for us to redouble our endeavors.
My fellow Koreans,
The final round of the Meeting for Emergency Economic Measures was held some time ago. When the financial crisis emanating from the United States reared its ugly head five years ago, the first meeting was held in the underground bunker at Cheong Wa Dae, the so-called war room, with participants equipping themselves with an extraordinary sense of urgency.
The meeting was held every Thursday without omission. As a result, a total of 145 sessions were convened, becoming the meeting I have presided over the most.
The Meeting has served as a venue where many people from the government and private sectors, including government officials, economic experts, microbusiness owners, young people, workers and business leaders, sat together to freely express what they had to say and engaged in discussions. In many cases, their discussions continued beyond the scheduled time and eventually arrived at a conclusion.
More than 40 percent of the meetings were held at places where people live and work. This is because, when the economy faces difficulties, it is critical to address problems promptly and identify solutions on the scene. We dropped in on markets at dawn as well as industrial sites. Regardless of time and place, we visited areas where business activities were taking place and ordinary people were working. After listening to what they had to say firsthand, we endeavored to take it into consideration.
Being present with small business owners and shopkeepers to help devise solutions for difficulties as they arise is, at times, more helpful than trying to change legislation. With heads of related ministries and other key personnel together in one place and I, myself, presiding over the proceedings, we were able to implement policies quickly and effectively.
I believe that it is this very unity of purpose, demonstrated by the public and private sectors in coming together to act promptly and decisively during these meetings, which has enabled our country to withstand the unprecedented global economic crisis with relative success.
A reputable American foreign policy journal recently named Korea as the first country to recover from the global recession, having made the most of opportunities to turn misfortune into lasting gains.
During the past five years, as well, Korea's sovereign credit rating has risen more than that of any other OECD member country, and our investment in research and development increased to rank second highest in the world. In the midst of crisis, while global indicators showed that other countries were experiencing decline, we pressed ahead.
If you were to ask me what could have driven us this far, I would point to the spirit that characterized the proceedings of the sessions of the Meeting for Emergency Economic Measures. Coordinating with the private sector and seeking solutions on the ground, we moved forward with steadfast and unremitting energy.
It is my hope that this spirit and the interactions it encourages will become a deeply rooted tradition influencing not only the Government but also the whole of society.
To the civil servants, business leaders, workers, and all of you whose days and nights went to addressing and overcoming this crisis—you have my deepest gratitude.
Last November, we had some cheering news. A report entitled “The World in 2013,” published in the United Kingdom by The Economist, took a look at the question of which country will be the best for a baby born in 2013. Placing 19th on the index, Korea followed closely behind the United States and Germany, which tied for 16th, and surpassed Japan, France and the United Kingdom.
All that which we have poured out during these difficult times has built for our children a country that will provide them with opportunities to live happy lives—this is our great joy and reward.
Fellow citizens, the days have gotten quite cold. I hope you will all take special care to stay healthy.
Thank you very much.