|President Moon Jae-in speaks to reporters during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Kim Yoo-chul
Economic cooperation with North Korea will provide a boost to the South Korean economy, President Moon Jae-in said Thursday.
"If we restart economic cooperation with North Korea, this will bring vitality to our economy," Moon said during a New Year's press conference at Cheong Wa Dae.
"Inter-Korean economic projects are a blessing, which have already been prepared for us. One misunderstanding is South Korea is spending too much on economic projects with North Korea. But South Korean companies have benefitted more from operations at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex as it offered a chance for local companies to supply and sell their projects, there."
Moon said South Korea will cooperate with the international community including the United States and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to quickly resolve the issue of economic sanctions on the North.
"In order to resolve the issue of economic sanctions, North Korea should introduce concrete measures for the dismantlement of its nuclear program boldly and quickly. The lifting of economic sanctions is in sync with the level of the denuclearization process," Moon said.
"When North Korea opens up its economy and a process to build relevant infrastructure starts, that will lead to intense competition among foreign capital to gain first-mover advantage. The resumption of inter-Korean economic projects, if it happens in a timely fashion, will put South Korea in a better position than others," the President said, adding Seoul welcomes Pyongyang's intention to resume their operation without conditions or compensation.
Moon stressed that the dramatic improvement in inter-Korean relations was achieved by his administration.
In a bill presented the National Assembly in September last year, the government proposed spending $419 million on North Korea-related ventures which included family reunions, a joint liaison office and sporting exchanges. The figure refers only to this year's expenditure. The Assembly has yet to ratify the bill.
The two symbolic economic projects at North Korea's Mount Geumgang resort and the Gaeseong complex, just north of the Koreas' border, were suspended in the past decade along with other similar economic projects amid the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear program. The two projects were considered as key resources for badly needed foreign currency for the North.
The remarks, however, underscore the difference in South Korea's position from the United States and Japan, which say they will keep economic sanctions in place unless North Korea takes more concrete steps toward denuclearization.
|President Moon Jae-in's senior secretaries are seated during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. From left is presidential chief of staff Noh Young-min, National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong, presidential chief of policy Kim Soo-hyun and presidential chief of political affairs Kang Gi-jung. Yonhap|
Despite growing controversy, the President defended his "income-led" growth strategy, promising "tangible" benefits this year. Moon said his administration has acknowledged the challenges to the economy, but stressed it was all the more important to continue the strategy.
"Changing an economic structure is truly challenging. It will take time and I accept the controversy about the strategy. But this is the path that we should take. Lots of countries are trying to address growing income inequality. My administration takes the tepid economic growth and low employment very seriously," he said in the conference packed with 180 domestic and overseas media.
Moon urged Japan to take a "more humble" attitude toward its past asking Tokyo to stop "politicizing" the issue of Koreans forced to work by Japanese companies during the Second World War.
"I am so sorry to see Japanese politicians politicizing the issue. The Japanese government should take a more humble attitude of its past wrongdoings. Tokyo should respect the ruling by a South Korean court in which its company was ordered to compensate South Korean laborers as this was an independent decision by the court," Moon said, adding South Koreans felt the 1965 treaty did not solve all issues for the victims.
Separately, Moon said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's recent visit to China will have a positive effect on the success of a possible upcoming second summit between him and U.S. President Donald Trump.