South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk Yeol promised in his inaugural address on Tuesday a “bold plan” to strengthen North Korea’s economy in exchange for denuclearization.
Yoon, a People Power Party conservative, made the comments after he was sworn in as the country’s newest leader at a ceremony in the capital, Seoul, to replace outgoing President Moon Jae-in.
“Today we face multiple crises,” said Yoon, pointing to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and a host of economic and social problems.
“As the new president, I am deeply humbled by the tremendous duty to lead our nation out of the latest crises,” he added. “I am also grateful that the people of this great nation entrust me. I am convinced that we will overcome it again.”
Speaking before parliament, Yoon called North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a “threat” to the region. But, he added, the door to dialogue and peaceful resolution remains open — and he wanted to help improve life in North Korea in exchange for increased security.
“If North Korea really embarks on a process to complete denuclearization, we are ready to work with the international community to present a bold plan that will greatly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the lives of its people. will improve,” he said.
Denuclearization would be “great contribution to bringing lasting peace and prosperity to the Korean peninsula and beyond,” he added.
During his election campaign, Yoon pledged to take a tougher stance on North Korea — a departure from Moon’s approach, which had consistently promoted peaceful reconciliation.
By contrast, Yoon has vowed not to relax sanctions or prepare a peace treaty until the North “takes active steps towards full and verifiable denuclearization,” and said earlier this year that he would “build a powerful military force that can surely deter any provocation.” .
Tensions between the Koreas have been particularly high in recent times due to a recent increase in North Korean missile testing. North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on Saturday — its second test that week alone and its 14th missile test so far this year.
By comparison, it only ran four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.
Yoon also discussed a number of domestic issues at the inauguration, including rising unemployment and slowing economic growth. He pledged to reverse this and encourage “social mobility”, emphasizing scientific progress and technological advancement as top priorities in building the economy.
The speech was followed by the nationally broadcast opening of the Blue House, the presidential office and a number of choir and orchestra performances.
Yoon is a newcomer to politics having spent the last 27 years of his career as a prosecutor. He began his political career after leading high-profile investigations into corruption scandals plaguing Moon’s associates.
He won the presidential election in March by a wafer-thin margin, against liberal rival Lee Jae-myung. Yoon’s victory put the Korean government back into conservative hands, more than five years after conservative Park Geun-hye was ousted over her own corruption scandal.