South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk Yeol promised an “audacious plan” to strengthen North Korea’s economy in exchange for denuclearization in his inauguration speech Tuesday.
Yoon, a conservative from the People Power Party, gave the remarks after being sworn in as the country’s newest leader in a ceremony in the capital Seoul, replacing outgoing President Moon Jae-in.
“Today, we are faced with multiple crises,” Yoon said, pointing to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and a host of economic and social issues.
“As the new President, I am deeply humbled by the awesome duty to lead our nation out of the latest crises,” he added. “I am also grateful to be entrusted by the people of this great nation. I am confident that once again, we will overcome.”
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Speaking in front of 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 return for greater security.
“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 life for its people,” he said.
Denuclearization would “greatly contribute to bringing lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” he added.
During his election campaign, Yoon promised 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 ease sanctions or prepare a peace treaty until the North “makes active efforts in complete and verifiable denuclearization,” saying earlier this year he would build “a powerful military force that can assuredly deter any provocation.”
Tensions between the Koreas have run particularly high recently amid a recent surge in North Korean missile testing. North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on Saturday – the second test that week alone, and the 14th missile test so far this year.
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By comparison, it conducted only four tests in 2020, and eight in 2021.
Yoon also addressed a number of domestic issues at the inauguration, including rising unemployment and slowing economic growth. He promised to reverse this and to encourage “social mobility,” highlighting scientific advancement and technological progress as key priorities in building the economy.
The speech was followed by the nationally televised opening of the Blue House, the presidential office, and a number of performances by a choir and orchestra.
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 that plagued Moon’s aides.
He won the presidential election in March by a razor-thin margin, against liberal rival Lee Jae-myung. Yoon’s victory put the Korean government back in conservative hands, more than five years after conservative Park Geun-hye was impeached over her own corruption scandal.