New ROK president’s openness to dialogue seen as conducive to peace

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during an inaugural dinner at a hotel in Seoul on May 10, 2022. (JEON HEON-KYUN / POOL / AFP)

Republic of Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol said his new government will open dialogue for issues concerning the peninsula and be a “trusted member” of the international community.

Noting the Republic of Korea is the world’s 10th-largest economy, President Yoon Suk-yeol said domestic and international issues cannot be differentiated and that the country can find the right solution for many internal challenges when it assumes a greater international role

In his inauguration speech on May 10, Yoon vowed to leave the door open for the peaceful resolution of the Korean Peninsula's nuclear issue through dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan, as President Xi Jinping’s special representative, led a delegation to the ROK to attend the inauguration. 

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There were also around 300 foreign dignitaries at Yoon’s inauguration ceremony, including Douglas Emhoff, the husband of US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Singaporean President Halimah Yacob.  Around 40,000 people attended the ceremony at the National Assembly plaza in Seoul. 

Yoon said the DPRK’s denuclearization will “greatly contribute” to bringing lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

"If North Korea stops nuclear development and genuinely embarks on denuclearization, we will be prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that can dramatically improve North Korea's economy and the quality of life for its people," Yoon said. The DPRK is also known as North Korea.

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Lee Jung-tae, professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Kyungpook National University in the ROK, told China Daily, “The key point of Yoon’s speech is a proposal for China, Japan and other regional countries to unite and cooperate freely to overcome difficulties.” 

Lee said he is optimistic about the future of ROK-China relations after Yoon’s inauguration because the two countries need to cooperate to defeat COVID-19, a common enemy, while promoting economic recovery and supporting people’s livelihood. 

Lee said the attendance by China’s Vice-President Wang at the ceremony is a meaningful sign that China wants to improve relations with the ROK and also reflects the expectation of Yoon’s government. Wang is the highest official ever from Beijing at Seoul’s presidential inauguration ceremonies.

Noting the ROK is the world’s 10th-largest economy, Yoon said domestic and international issues cannot be differentiated and that the country can find the right solution for many internal challenges when it assumes a greater international role. 

Yoon said social conflict and division must be overcome through rapid, sustainable growth supported by science, technology and innovation.

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“I solemnly pledge today that I will do my utmost to elevate (the ROK) into a country that truly belongs to the people. A country based on the pillars of freedom, human rights, fairness and solidarity; a country that is respected by others around the world,” said Yoon. 

Kim Byoung-joo, professor in International Relations and Political Science at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management in the ROK, said the implication he sees from Yoon’s speech is that the new administration will reduce government intervention, with an aim to stimulate socioeconomic growth. 

“He (Yoon) made it clear in his speech that he believes … an expansion of the economy is the best way to address all the problems that we have seen so far,” Kim said.

Kim said Yoon needs to pay more attention to the weaker ones in society who cannot compete as freely and strongly as the others. 

While it was “quite unusual” for Yoon to address both the ROK citizens and the 7.5 million Korean diaspora across the world, the president also touched on international issues such as COVID-19, said Hoo Chiew Ping, senior lecturer in Strategic Studies and International Relations at the National University of Malaysia. She said the external factors are closely linked to the country’s domestic situation.

“This inauguration speech is written in a very realistic and hopeful way (by saying that) the ROK is going to globalize itself,” Hoo told China Daily.

She said the ROK has been increasing its investment in the region and it now wants to increase its role in the global supply chain, which has been under stress due to various factors.

Yoon, 61, was the ROK’s top prosecutor before declaring his candidacy for president last year. As a candidate of the conservative opposition People Power Party, he won a narrow victory over his liberal rival in March. 

Yoon will be working from the new presidential office at the Defense Ministry compound in Yongsan district. He had pushed for the relocation from Cheong Wa Dae in central Seoul, a complex that had served as the presidential office since the ROK government was established in 1948.