South Korea’s new president hands North Korea an olive branch

At his inauguration, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said he will help North Korea develop its economy if Pyongyang accepts dialogue and denuclearization.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons program poses a threat to our security and to Northeast Asia, but the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can meet this threat peacefully,” new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said at the inauguration ceremony at the National Assembly today.

South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol was sworn in at the National Assembly on May 10.  Photo: AFP.

South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol was sworn in at the National Assembly on May 10. Picture: AFP.

“If Pyongyang does indeed enter the process of full denuclearization, we stand ready to work with the international community to develop a bold plan to greatly strengthen the economy and improve people’s lives,” Yoon added, showing the gesture of stretching an olive branch to its northern neighbor.

In his inaugural address, he outlined many challenges South Korea and the world are facing, from the Covid-19 pandemic and global supply chain volatility to record growth and rising unemployment in Korea.

“Our generation must build a free democratic country and ensure a prosperous market economy, a country that truly belongs to the people and fulfills the responsibilities of a trusted member of the international community,” he said.

In front of around 41,000 people who attended the inauguration, South Korea’s new president “sworn a solemn oath to the people that I will faithfully carry out the duties of the President”.

Yoon began his five-year term when he received an early morning report on military operations and combat readiness from Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in the underground bunker under the new president’s office in Yongsan. The meeting was attended by senior security officials, including defense minister nominee Lee Jong-sup and new national security adviser Kim Sung-han.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, 61, won the March 9 election with 48.6 percent of the vote. He decided not to work in the Blue House because he considered it a “symbol of feudal power” and moved his office to the Ministry of Defense building in central Yongsan District, Seoul.

Guests attend the swearing-in ceremony of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who will be sworn in at the National Assembly May 10.  Photo: AFP.

Guests attend the swearing-in ceremony of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who will be sworn in at the National Assembly May 10. Picture: AFP.

During his tenure, Mr. Yoon will rise to the challenge of curbing property prices and the widening gap between rich and poor in South Korea. The country’s economy is expected to face many difficulties when the global supply chain is disrupted and energy prices soar due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis.

Tensions between the two Koreas have also increased as Pyongyang recently conducted numerous weapons tests. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged last month to speed up the development of his nuclear arsenal.

South Korea’s new president has pledged to quickly mobilize resources early in his term to counter Pyongyang’s moves and build a credible deterrent to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and firearms programs.

Huyen Le (Corresponding Yonhap, AFP)