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President Lee’s New Year Message: Beyond Crisis Toward Hope

After the wordy joint new year editorial of the North Korean newspapers, President Lee’s New Year Message is more concise and to the point.

President Lee address

It addresses the North Korean issue, insisting that dialogue is possible: “Peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and reunification are the tasks that should be addressed jointly by both the South and North, the owners of the Korean Peninsula, not by other parties.” Clearly the North Koreans have other ideas, calling President Lee a “traitor and pro-US fascist maniac” in KCNA’s latest tiresome rant.

And at a time when the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is recognised as the least democratic nation on earth, and according to one report is shooting citizens trying to defect, President Lee takes account of criticism of his leadership style and the GNP: “I will listen to the voice of the people with an even more humble attitude” he pledges.

President Lee emphasises South Korea’s position in the world by mentioning their hosting of international conferences on aid effectiveness and nuclear security, and the upcoming Yeosu Expo.

The economy, inflation (particularly housing costs) and the birth rate are also concerns. Lee pledges assistance for the SME sector to create private sector jobs and commits to ensuring high school graduates get employment opportunities. The aim is to increase the number of internships, and public sector organizations are charged to ensure 20% of recruits come from high schools rather than the top universities.

The full text is below, taken from the Chongwadae website:

Beyond Crisis Toward Hope

My fellow citizens, compatriots overseas and brethren in the North,

The Year of the Dragon, 2012, has dawned.

In the year of the soaring dragon, I hope the nation’s fortunes will further prosper in the global arena.

Last year, we became the ninth country in the world to achieve the feat of US$1 trillion in trade. Besides, the trade surplus reached US$33.3 billion, surpassing our original prediction.

Even the foot-and-mouth disease that swept the entire country, the most severe downpour in 100 years and the fiscal crisis emanating from Europe were not able to bring our forward march to a halt.

The achievement was made possible because all our people came together and worked hard. I am grateful to our business leaders and workers for having worked so hard thus far.

It seems, however, that the waves heading toward us this year will be much higher. The world economy is slipping into a new era of low growth, not just a temporary recession.

Global politics are also undergoing upheavals. Most major countries, including the United States, will elect new leaders this year.

The death of Chairman Kim Jong Il of North Korea is portending a sea change in the developments surrounding the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

The Government’s priority in steering state affairs this year will be put on coping with these uncertainties and managing the situation to ensure that the people can go about their lives without anxiety.

It will do what it can to the best of its ability to keep peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. It will help create jobs and stabilize consumer prices.

Fellow Koreans,

Developments surrounding the Korean Peninsula are entering into a new period of transition, but new opportunities always emerge amidst such changes and uncertainties.

The essential goal for us to achieve now is peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The window of opportunity always remains open.

If North Korea comes forward with a sincere attitude, it will be possible for us to work together to open a new era of the Korean Peninsula. The South and North should end mutual distrust through dialogue and move onto the path toward mutual benefits and common prosperity.

I have expectations that this year will set a milestone for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. As soon as the North stops its nuclear-related activities, it will be possible for the Six-Party Talks to resume.

We are ready to provide the necessary support to ease North Korea’s security concerns and resuscitate its economy based on what will be agreed upon at the Six-Party Talks.

But as long as there continues to be a possibility of North Korean provocation, we will maintain a watertight defense posture. If any aggression occurs, we will strongly respond.

Peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and reunification are the tasks that should be addressed jointly by both the South and North, the owners of the Korean Peninsula, not by other parties. I expect neighboring countries will readily cooperate as well.

The Government will continue to further step up strategic communications and cooperation with the nations that have close interest in the Korean Peninsula.

At the Korea-U.S. Summit last October, President Obama and I had candid discussions on the developments surrounding the Korean Peninsula and security issues and further solidified own bilateral cooperation.

This month, I will make a state visit to China on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two countries. There, I will meet President Hu Jintao and discuss matters of mutual interest and the future of Korea-China relations.

In recent summits with Japan and Russia, I had in-depth consultations with my counterparts on peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia , including the North Korean issue.

I am also working in close strategic coordination with key leaders of the European Union and ASEAN.

Fellow citizens,

Korea’s national strength and its international standing have never been stronger or higher than now.

Since the hosting of the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010, Korea has been actively contributing to overcoming the global economic crisis.

It hosted the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in November. At the forum, Korea took the lead in discussions aimed at promoting ecosystemic development and mitigating the socio-economic divide on global level and put forward solutions to the problems.

The Nuclear Security Summit Seoul 2012, slated for March, will serve as a catalyst for Korea to expand its role into international security issues. It will set a milestone in making the world freer from the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The Republic of Korea will lead the efforts to usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for all peoples by meeting the grave challenges facing the international community.

My fellow citizens,

Over the past four years, the global economy has been subjected to a series of crises.

On the strength of the joint efforts of all Koreans, Korea was able to surmount those crises faster than any other country in the world. Yet, domestically, the economic recovery seems to be far off for so many people.

Furthermore, Korea is not immune to socio-economic polarization plaguing the whole globe. I put forth ecosystemic development in my Liberation Day speech last year.

My suggestion was based on the belief that even the market economy cannot be sustainable unless each and every entity in it works together and coexists.

To keep a virtuous cycle between growth and welfare, and to make all citizens better off, the Government, businesses and society have to work together in unison.

The Administration’s goals in running economic affairs of the nation this year will be geared toward stabilizing the lives of low-income families.

Last year saw sharp increases in consumer prices. Among other things, key money and monthly rent soared sharply, weighing heavily on the working class. Thinking, as President, of the suffering of the people, not a single day has passed without worrying about them.

Under all circumstances this year, the Government will make efforts to curb inflation of consumer prices within the low 3 percent range. Growth matters, but at the same time, the focus will also be placed on the stabilization of consumer prices.

As part of efforts to relieve the burden on the shoulders of low-income families in terms of housing expenses, the Government will increase the supply of rental units, thereby stabilizing the markets for rental and long-term lease units.

In particular, for college students who study away from home, a total of 10,000 rental units will be provided in the vicinity of universities before the start of the new semester this year.

The Government will also do its utmost to create job opportunities.

It will draw up this year’s budget tailored to increasing job opportunities and invest over 10 trillion won in securing more jobs.

For the creation of jobs in the private sector, the Government will strengthen assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises in all aspects, including fiscal matters, finance, procurement and fair transactions.

Notably, the KORUS FTA constitutes an enormous opportunity for domestic SMEs. An increased number of decent jobs will be created. An FTA assistance framework will be established jointly between the government and private sector, thereby helping SMEs make the best use of trade deal.

The Government will also help society see jobs from a different perspective.

It will create an open society concerning employment, where the abilities of individuals come before their academic background.

Up until now, there has been a tendency in our society that only those who graduated from university, especially from prestigious ones, were respected.

Now is high time to change the status quo. In the era of IT, it should be possible. Changes have already begun to take place.

In this connection, the Government has founded Meister high schools and intensively provided assistance to them. All students attending Meister high schools have already landed a job while at school.

Vocational high schools have changed into specialized high schools, and the assistance to them has been further bolstered.

Up to November last year, over 80 percent of graduates from specialized high schools who wanted to work have successfully gotten a job. The Government will make efforts to help those schools realize full employment.

The Government will make sure that, starting this year without any procrastination, 20 percent of new recruits of public organizations come from high school graduates. For those who want to study at university later on, the Government will strengthen the system, through which high school graduates secure employment first and continue their studies sometime later.

After realizing the excellence of high school graduates, many businesses from the financial sector and conglomerates have jumped on the bandwagon in hiring them. All these are emblematic of positive changes in the perceptions and practices in our society.

Discrimination against non-regular workers will be addressed without fail. It does not make any sense for them to be discriminated against unreasonably, even though they are doing the same work as regular workers.

Last year, the Government announced comprehensive measures aimed at tackling issues with regard to non-regular workers. The public sector will take the initiative in improving the working and living conditions of non-regular workers with fixed-term contracts. Starting this year, government subsidies for the social insurance programs will be provided to 2.12 million low-paid workers.

Low fertility and ageing poses a serious challenge to the future of our country.

The Government will place top priority on increasing the birth rate. I will personally oversee this matter.

As part of efforts to reduce the substantial burden on parents in bringing up children, childcare assistance for babies up to five years old will be expanded.

This year, a universal curriculum for five-year-olds will be introduced, and thus, families with five year-old children will be provided with financial benefits in terms of childcare and educational expenses. Starting next year, the program will be expanded to three and four-year-olds in stages. All parents with children two years old and younger will be eligible for childcare services beginning this year.

Furthermore, Investments in childcare has been said to be a matter of welfare. Rather, it is an investment in the future and the most efficient means to respond to low fertility and ageing.

The welfare system will be knitted more tightly, thereby supporting needy people effectively.

Together with local governments and residents, government officials will take field trips to identify needy people and help them. Welfare services will be provided in line with the actual needs of each household. On top of this, the welfare delivery system will be reorganized to make one-stop service possible.

While maintaining fiscal soundness, the Government will carry out sustainable welfare policies, helping all citizens lead healthy and happy lives.

School violence is an urgent and critical problem that our society should resolve together.

My heart aches severely when I think about the students victimized by school violence and their parents.

It seems as though our society had been in total darkness about the emotions and culture of students as well as their situation.

The responsibility to prevent a reoccurrence of such a painful incident is placed squarely on each of us.

We need to carry out a substantive rectification based on highly professional assessment.

Government ministries and experts from all walks of life are harnessing collective wisdom in order to establish comprehensive policies conducive to making schools free of bullying and violence.

The Government will exert extraordinary efforts to make schools safe so that every student and parent will feel secure.

My dear young members,

Youth unemployment is a priority government task in that it gives pain to the whole family as well as the individual involved.

As the country enters a low-growth phase typical of advanced economies, jobs for young people have not been increasing much.

The Government is agonizing over the issue of creating as many good jobs as possible for young people.

As it did last year, the Government will work hard this year as well to provide more than 70,000 jobs that young people prefer. The public sector will hire 14,000 new workers this year.

Recently, I got to see many people who have been hired after working as an intern at promising small and medium-sized companies.

This year, the Government will boost the number of interns to 40,000.

Not long ago, I met a young businessman who, instead of seeking employment, chose the route of a one-person start-up business and succeeded, hiring 20 younger workers in just one year. Starting new businesses in this way contributes to the creation of new jobs beyond the success of individual entrepreneurs.

This is why the Government has launched a 500 billion won start-up fund exclusively dedicated for such young entrepreneurs.

New business opportunities are not limited in Korea.

Since 2008, the Government has been implementing a global youth leadership program for the purpose of arranging internships and jobs overseas for young men and women.

The World Friends Korea program of the KOICA envisages sending a total of 20,000 volunteers abroad by next year.

Opportunities abound in industrialized countries as well.

Through the Working Holiday program, some 50,000 Koreans travel to other countries every year.

Other projects include the WEST program implemented in cooperation with the United States and an increasing number of overseas internships and volunteer programs for college students. Opportunities can also be found at Korean companies operating in foreign countries.

Young men and women,

I want to see more young people venture more aggressively into Africa, South America and other regions around the world.

Face new challenges without fearing possible failures. The Government will give you maximum support so that you will be able to rise again even after a failure.

I firmly believe that with a burning passion, spirit of challenge and creativity, you will be able to lead a greater Republic of Korea.

Fellow Koreans,

This year, the economy will be undergoing severe difficulties. Short-term preparations are important but no less important is nurturing long-term growth potential.

The Government will be even more diligent in carrying out such projects as the promotion of new growth engine industries and the development of overseas resources that will sustain the nation for the next 30 years and beyond.

We will strive to foster research in the field of science and technology, including IT, conducive to creating new industries and more jobs.

The Government will help green growth be firmly settled both at home and abroad, laying a solid foundation for future progress.

By successfully hosting the Yeosu Expo in May, the country’s status as a leading maritime nation will be heightened.

For the first time in 20 years, the country will hold the National Assembly and presidential elections during the same year. With a historic sense of responsibility, the Government will manage the elections fairly.

I anticipate every citizen’s cooperation in preventing wasteful conflict and division so that the Republic will not go off course while sailing rough seas.

Looking back over the past year, I cannot help but express my regrets as well.

I will take a good look at myself and the people around me again, redress omissions and commissions and manage all matters more strictly.

I will listen to the voice of the people with an even more humble attitude and help them more with their economic lives.

As part of the effort to prepare for the expected rough economic waves, major ministries and agencies have already completed reports for their New Year projects at the end of last year. The Government is ready to implement its budget as early as possible in the New Year.

I will work even more diligently and faithfully to carry out my duties without the slightest wavering during the remainder of the term.

For the past half a century, our nation has never submitted to any difficulties, took crises as an opportunity and carved out new chapters in our history.

As long as we harness our strengths and hearts, all of our dreams and hopes will be materialized.

With the hopes we have, the future of the Republic of Korea is bright, indeed.

Let us usher in a new year of hope, transcending the crisis.

I hope that in 2012, every one of you will have good health and overflowing good fortunes.

I wish you a very Happy New Year. Thank you.

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