President Moon Jae-in on Sunday pledged to build a “pioneering economy” in the post-COVID-19 era, focusing on “turning a crisis into an opportunity” for the remainder of his term.
In a special address to the nation on the third anniversary of his inauguration, Moon focused on economic issues, outlining his plans to lay the foundations for economic growth and to strengthen South Korea’s standing in the international community.
“The fear of unemployment is spreading beyond small businesses, irregular workers and day laborers to employees of large companies. It is an ‘economic wartime,’” Moon said. Going on to list the steps the government has taken so far, such as rolling out a 245 trillion won ($200 billion) economic package, Moon said his administration will “mobilize all possible resources and policies” to prepare for the stronger impact that is still in store for the economy.
Saying the global economy will continue to reel after the pandemic is over, he said South Korea must make long-term preparations to survive and laid out a four-point plan to strengthen the country’s economy.
“With innovative venture companies and startups as the main driving forces, Korea will be raised to a ‘digital powerhouse’ that leads the world,” Moon said, adding that a “pioneering economy” model will be established.
South Korea has become “the world’s safest and most transparent production base” and stands to benefit from the shift globally of favoring innovation capabilities and safe investment destinations over cheap labor costs, he said.
“Bold strategies for facilitating not only the return of local companies, but also for attracting international cutting-edge industries and investment will be rolled out. Korea will become the world’s factor for high-tech industries and will change the industrial map of the world.”
Next, Moon outlined his measures to increase job security. He said the government will dramatically expand employment insurance and introduce a system to aid job seekers.
Under the plans, employment insurance will be gradually expanded until people engaged in all forms of employment can access it, and the system for job seekers will provide training and other support.
“Third, the Korean New Deal to create jobs will be conducted as a national project. The government will create new jobs to give the people new opportunities,” Moon said.
“The Korean version of the New Deal is a preemptive investment in the future for building digital infrastructure. Establishing 5G infrastructure, (as well as) infrastructure for collecting, storing and using data will be conducted as a national project.”
Other projects listed include facilitating the growth of a “distance industry” in the medical, education and retail sectors, and applying artificial intelligence and other digital technologies to cities, road networks and industrial complexes.
Last, Moon said he will strengthen South Korea’s standing in the international community, focusing on “human security,” which he described as security issues that go beyond military issues to include other threats such as natural disasters, diseases and environmental issues.
In the address, Moon also revealed that he plans to raise the status of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under Moon’s plans -- subject to the National Assembly’s approval -- the KCDC would be upgraded and a local epidemic response system would be established. In addition, an additional vice minister’s post would be created within the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and a national infectious disease research center would be established along with hospitals specializing in infectious diseases.
Moon also took the opportunity to stress that the public must remain vigilant against COVID-19 despite the nation appearing to have the situation under control.
With the number of daily cases falling, the government has eased social distancing measures, reopening public facilities and schools in stages.
“But we have not gone back before COVID-19. The recent cluster infections at entertainment facilities have raised awareness that similar incidents can happen anywhere at any time in enclosed spaces,” Moon said, referring to a cluster of cases associated with clubs in Seoul’s nightlife district of Itaewon.
“It is not over until it is over. We must remain cautious and maintain quarantine (measures) until the end.”
Unlike many of Moon’s previous addresses, this one did not emphasize North Korea, with Moon simply saying he hopes the two Koreas can “move toward a single community of life and a peace community by cooperating on human security.”
In response to a question after the speech, Moon went back to his oft-repeated position that the two Koreas should search for ways to cooperate within the boundaries of international sanctions as US-North Korea dialogue is progressing slowly.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com