Briefing Room

2022 May. 10

President Yoon takes office under 'Again, Republic of Korea' motto

President Yoon Suk Yeol, the nation's 20th head of state, on the morning of May 10 was inaugurated at National Assembly Plaza in the Yeouido area of Seoul's Yeongdeungpo-gu District to begin a five-year term. In his inauguration speech, the new president said, "I stand before you today, humbled by the trust and responsibility that you have given me and mindful of my solemn duty to rebuild this great nation. It is our generation's calling to build a nation that espouses liberal democracy and ensures a thriving market economy, a nation that fulfills its responsibility as a trusted member of the international community, and a nation that truly belongs to the people." Mentioning the pandemic crisis, social conflict and polarization, he stressed the value of "freedom" to resolve such hardships. "We must clearly define ― and unequivocally reaffirm ― the real meaning of freedom," the president said. "In order for everyone to enjoy freedom, everyone must be allowed to enjoy a certain level of economic freedom; everyone must be guaranteed the right to receive quality education and everyone must be granted the freedom to access and experience various cultural activities." He also emphasized "creativity" and "cooperation" in the process of economic growth. "It is critical that we achieve rapid growth and this will only be possible through science, technology and innovation," he added. "We must work together with other like-minded nations that respect freedom and encourage creativity." On policy toward North Korea, the president said, "While North Korea's nuclear weapon programs are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat." "If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea's economy and improve the quality of life for its people." "It is incumbent upon us to take on a greater role befitting our stature as a global leader. We must actively protect and promote universal values and international norms that are based on freedom and respect for human rights," he added. "I solemnly pledge today that I will do my utmost to elevate Korea into a country that truly belongs to the people. A country based on the pillars of freedom, human rights, fairness and solidarity." Under the slogan, "Again, Republic of Korea! A new nation of the people" (unofficial translation), the ceremony saw 41,000 people attend including former presidents Moon Jae-in and Park Geun-hye, VIPs from in and out of the country, parliamentary and government officials, business figures and invited civilians. At midnight that day, President Yoon became commander-in-chief at the situation room (underground bunker) of the National Emergency Management System located under the recently relocated presidential office in Seoul's Yongsan-gu District. President Yoon Suk Yeol on May 10 waves to the crowd in a motorcade after his inauguration ceremony at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Presidential Security Service's Kang Min-seok)

2022 May. 7

VOA Interviews South Korea’s President-Elect Yoon Suk Yeol - Transcript

In late April VOA Korean Service chief Dong Hyuk Lee spoke with South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol in Yoon's office in Seoul. VOA: I would like to ask about the South Korea-U.S. alliance. This year marks the 69th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. The Biden administration is emphasizing an alliance based on shared values. How do you envision the direction of the South Korea-U.S. alliance? Yoon: The Mutual Defense Treaty was signed between the U.S. and South Korea during the Korean War in 1953. Now, military security is not the only important aspect of the alliance, but economic security and technology security and even human security are [important aspects of the alliance] being discussed. An alliance is a system of relationships between countries that mutually benefit each other in the best way possible when each other’s security is at risk. I believe the concept of security in the South Korea-U.S. alliance has to go beyond military security now to include security in the areas of economy, advanced technologies and supply networks as well as global issues surrounding climate change and health care so that the relationship could be expanded and upgraded to a comprehensive alliance. VOA: A plan for your summit with President Joe Biden is under preparation. What are some outcomes you would like to achieve? Yoon: I would like to add to what was missing in an agreement that President Moon Jae-in and President Biden made verbally last year. When the two met last year, they discussed only the topic of [a COVID-19] vaccine, but I believe the discussion needs to be expanded to include broadening the scope of a [joint] working group’s [cooperation and] participation on the QUAD, cutting-edge technology and climate change. Right now, military security relies heavily on science and technology, advanced technology, so South Korea and the U.S. need to cooperate more closely on the state-of-art technology. South Korea needs do more than [merely] expressing that we agree with U.S. policies or that we will stand with the U.S., and [actually] labor over global issues together. I think we need to play a leading role in the areas that require our part. VOA: I would like to ask a question pertaining to a pending issue between South Korea and the U.S. It is about the wartime operational control transfer. Both countries are planning on the transfer premised on a "conditions based" transfer. Some in South Korea think the OPCON transition should be done as soon as possible. What’s your position on this? Yoon: Having the control of wartime operational command means having the command over conducting joint military operation if a war breaks out. The transfer involves moving the wartime command authority from the U.S. to South Korea. To begin with, the most important thing in commanding a wartime operation is intelligence, intelligence about an adversary. If a war breaks out, a considerable number of strategic assets from the U.S. would be placed or deployed on the Korean Peninsula. So first, we need to secure a reasonable level of intelligence capabilities for conducting surveillance and reconnaissance operations that will allow conducting a joint wartime operation. Although intelligence-gathering capabilities could not be as encompassing as the capabilities of the U.S., South Korea needs to obtain more surveillance and reconnaissance assets. I think we are lacking sufficient readiness to operate intelligence assets. In respect to North Korea’s projectiles delivery methods, I also believe it is essential for us to upgrade defense systems that could respond to missile attacks [from North Korea]. When we focus our preparation in these two areas, I believe the U.S. would not oppose too much to transfer the wartime operational control. [The timing of] the OPCON transfer needs to depend on considering factors that are the most effective in winning a war. VOA: Do you mean the wartime operational control doesn’t need to be transferred sooner? Yoon: If we want to transfer sooner, we have to prepare more [and faster]. The issue of returning the wartime operational control [to South Korea] should depend on factors that are most effective in winning a war. I don’t think it is a matter that needs to be decided based on certain pretexts or ideologies. South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, right, is being interviewed in late April 2022 by VOA's Korean Service Chief Dong Hyuk Lee, in Yoon's office in Seoul. (VOA Korean Service)South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, right, is being interviewed in late April 2022 by VOA's Korean Service Chief Dong Hyuk Lee, in Yoon's office in Seoul. (VOA Korean Service)VOA: You mentioned the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the biggest obstacle in the inter-Korean relations and the U.S.-North Korea relation. What are your thoughts on resolving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons? Yoon: It is a very difficult issue. Currently, the entire world, the majority of the world agrees on the NPT, the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and accepts it as a norm. As a way to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons, an emphasis has been placed on extended deterrence. We must certainly participate in having more intimate and in-depth communications with the U.S. about extended deterrence. Also, the government or academia of South Korea or the U.S. needs to ask whether South Koreans who are living under the U.S. nuclear umbrella should completely rely on extended deterrence. In that respect, discussions are taking place on whether the U.S. should share its nuclear weapons and whether strategic nuclear assets should be redeployed in the case of South Korea. But I respect the nuclear nonproliferation regime and place more emphasis on strengthening extended deterrence, advancing South Korea’s missile defense system, and maintaining the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea. Dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons requires sending a consistent signal and message that should not be changed from time to time out of convenience. If North Korea gives up nuclear weapons, accepts nuclear inspections, or carries out irreversible denuclearization, then programs that will significantly improve North Korea’s economic situations will be examined and prepared [to be offered to North Korea]. VOA: Since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit between the U.S. and North Korea, negotiations with North Korea remain stalled. Do you have any willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in order to ease the current standoff and resume dialogue with North Korea? Yoon: There is no particular reason to avoid a summit. But it should follow mutual agreements made at working-level talks. The summit should be able to show the people of South Korea and North Korea and foreign countries the conclusion and concrete outcomes of talks. But if the summit ends in “showoff displays" with no concrete outcomes or substantial results made on denuclearization or providing economic support to North Korea, then it will not help advance inter-Korean relations and denuclearizing North Korea. However, because we certainly are one nation, I have some thoughts on whether we should actively pursue cultural and sports exchange programs. VOA: Do you have any preconditions that North Korea needs to meet before having a possible summit? Are there any conditions that North Korea should meet? Yoon: Well, I think we would know more after having working-level discussions. VOA: What role should the government of South Korea play to improve the human rights situation of North Korea? Yoon: Human rights are universal rights. If human rights pertain to only certain people but not to other people, then it is not human rights. Even politically, it would not be human rights if I boundlessly respect the human rights of people who share my political views but ignore the rights of people who stand on the opposite side of the political spectrum. That’s not human rights. Historically, the international community has responded continually to North Korea or similar societies that collectively violate human rights. As a free democratic country, South Korea must participate in supporting human rights that the entire world has been supporting. Rather than limiting the response [of South Korea] to North Korea’s human rights violations, when there is a collective abuse of human rights in the world and when abuses are done by a government authority or political force, then …the international community must cooperate and respond so that international order based on norms can be honored. VOA: This is the last question. The U.S. Congress views sending broadcasting programs to North Korea or outside information to North Korea as essential to improving North Korea’s human rights situation. Congress is supporting such activities. Does the South Korean government have similar plan. Yoon: Well, the current South Korean government legally banned broadcasting or sending information to North Korea. I believe that is wrong unless the ban is absolutely necessary to protect the safety of South Koreans living near the North Korean border. But before considering the issue at the governmental level … I don’t think it is appropriate for a government to forcibly regulate nongovernmental organizations’ human rights activities toward North Korea out of fear how those activities would offend North Korea. VOA: Thank you very much. Source: VOA (

2022 Apr. 28

President Biden to visit Korea from May 20-22 for bilateral talks

U.S. President Joseph Biden will arrive in Korea on May 20 for a three-day visit to hold a bilateral summit with President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol. President-elect Yoon's spokesperson Bae Hyun-jin on April 28 in a written briefing said the president-elect welcomes President Biden's visit to Korea from May 20-22. For a successful visit by the U.S. leader, she added that both sides will closely consult through diplomatic channels and that the presidential transition team will be "fully prepared." The two presidents will also hold talks on boosting the bilateral alliance and raising cooperation in policy toward North Korea, in addition to sharing a range of views on key regional and global issues. The spokesperson said the upcoming summit is expected to provide a historic turning point for Seoul and Washington to further advance their comprehensive strategic alliance. The summit during President Biden's visit will be the quickest with Korea in history after the inauguration of a new administration in Seoul, she added. President-elect Yoon's talks with the U.S. will come 11 days after his May 10 inauguration. President Moon Jae-in in 2017 held a summit with then U.S. counterpart Donald Trump 51 days after taking office, while in 2013, then President Park Geun-hye did the same with then U.S. President Barack Obama 71 days after her inauguration. This will be the first time in 29 years that a U.S. president visits Seoul before his newly inaugurated Korean counterpart goes to America. In July 1993, then U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Korea for talks with then President Kim Young-sam. The White House released President Biden's itinerary in Seoul. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on April 27 in a statement said her president will visit Seoul and Tokyo from May 20-24 to further boost ties at the government, economic and people levels. President Biden will visit Korea first and head to Japan afterwards to attend a summit of the Quad, a security alliance of Australia, Japan, India and the U.S. whose aim is to keep China in check. Psaki added. "The leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen our vital security relationships, enhance economic ties, and expand our close cooperation to deliver practical results." Meanwhile, the Biden administration invited Korea to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit from June 29-30 in Madrid, Spain. At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 26 said President Biden will attend the NATO summit with AP4 countries, namely NATO's four key Asia-Pacific partners: Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Thus if Seoul's attendance at the NATO summit is confirmed, President-elect Yoon will see President Biden again a month after their first summit.

2022 Apr. 26

Full opening of Cheong Wa Dae to public slated for May 10

Cheong Wa Dae from May 10 will be fully opened to the public. Rep. Yoon Han-hong, a member of the People Power Party and the head of a task force on the relocation of the presidential office, on April 25 told a news conference that the 20th presidential transition committee "decided to completely open the door of Cheong Wa Dae after the inauguration ceremony on May 10 at noon." "Cheong Wa Dae, which has the main office building, Yeongbingwan (state guesthouse), the best garden of Nokjiwon and Sangchunjae (traditional Korean-style building for hosting foreign guests and unofficial gatherings), will be reborn as an open venue to be enjoyed by the people." Cheong Wa Dae will be opened daily from May 10-22 with no break. A two-hour tour will be available six times a day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with up to 6,500 visitors permissible at one time and 39,000 per day. Separate admissions will go to senior citizens aged 65 or over, disabled people or those in group tours early in the opening period. Reservations for visits can be made from April 27 at 10 a.m. via the messaging app Kakao Talk, web portal Naver or financial app Toss. People can also book for those who do not use smart devices or users of regular phones. On the opening period's last day of May 22, Cheong Wa Dae will receive reservations through another application system whose details will be released later. Rep. Yoon said, "We plan to let anyone visit Cheong Wa Dae without a reservation in the future." On May 10 from 7 p.m., the restricted rear area of Bugaksan Mountain will be opened. Visitors can visit Daetongmun Gate and Baegakjeong Pavilion, both of which used to be closed due to guard and security issues, and connect to the path toward the fortress surrounding Seoul to complete the hiking trail on the mountain. The course can begin at either the east or west side of Cheong Wa Dae without reservations or limits on the number of people. The task force said it decided on a reservation system considering potential issues in inconvenience and safety caused by many visitors, especially in the early days of the opening. After May 23, the admission scale and management methods can be adjusted based on public interest and crowd levels, it added. During the 13-day opening period, events under the theme "Cheong Wa Dae: Back to the People" are slated in and around the Cheong Wa Dae compound, Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bugaksan Mountain. Other events will be held in select places nationwide including the Presidential Archives in Sejong, Cheongnamdae in Cheongju, Chungcheongbuk-do Province, and the Cheong Wa Dae film set in Hapcheon-gun County, Gyeongsangnam-do Province. Since Aug. 15, 1941, Cheong Wa Dae has been used as the official residence and administrative office of the president for 74 years with the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea. The opening of the site was a pledge made by President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol during his election campaign.

2022 Apr. 24

Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea’s Prosecutor-Turned-President, Wants a World That Follows the Rules

Leader takes office next month wanting to improve ties with U.S. and Japan, and hoping transparency works with North Korea and China  SEOUL—Behind the desk of Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea’s 61-year-old president-elect, a pair of red boxing gloves is displayed prominently on a shelf. They belonged to one of the country’s most famous professional fighters, whobecame a world champion in 1977—despite getting knocked down four times in the title match. Decades later, the boxer gave the gloves to Mr. Yoon at a campaign rally. Mr. Yoon, a prosecutor who entered politics only last year, won last month’s election for Korea’s main conservative party by a razor thin margin. He takes office May 10 for a five-year term at a time of significant friction betweenWashington, a longtime military ally, and Beijing, the country’s largest trading partner. He will need to navigate the security fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contend with a North Korea that has embarked on a newround of weapons tests. In a weekend interview at his transition office in Seoul, he signaled a pragmatic approach to foreign policy. On North Korea? He would offer significant economic incentives if Kim Jong Un takes concrete steps towarddisarmament. On the U.S. and Japan: He wants to improve ties with both. On Washington-Beijing tensions? Not a zero-sum matter for Seoul. On Ukraine? No plans to offer lethal weapons.“As president one of my most critical responsibilities is to uphold values as contained within our constitution, which is to uphold liberal free democracy, the market economy,” Mr. Yoon said. “That is the core and crux of SouthKorea whether it’s foreign policy or domestic policy.” Mr. Yoon has pledged to broaden South Korea’s involvement in working groups of the Quad—a security partnership involving the U.S., Australia, India and Japan that seeks to counter China. Mr. Yoon said he doesn’t expect SouthKorea to get an invitation any time soon. But if approached, South Korea “will positively review joining.” In a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Biden, which could come before a planned Quad meeting in Tokyo in late May, Mr. Yoon said he would talk about strengthening the two countries’ alliance. South Korea is home to America’slargest overseas military base with about 28,500 military personnel. But he would also bring up his goal of improving Seoul’s ties with Japan, which have frayed over trade disputes and historical issues. Seoul, in recent years, hasn’t taken as active a stance on the security risks posed by an increasingly well-armed China as have other U.S. allies in the region. “In the U.S. strategy to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific againstChina expansion, the weak link is Korea,” said Michael J. Green, a former U.S. National Security Council official who is now senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. On Saturday, Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, stood aboard an American warship that had recently deployed to the waters between Japan and Korea—a show of military force following a string of Kim regime missiletests. Pointing to the imminent arrival of a South Korean delegation in Tokyo, he proclaimed, “A new day, a new chapter in the trilateral relationship based on renewed friendship.” South Korea is the world’s 10th largest economy and home to global conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai and LG. Mr. Yoon wants to attract more investment by ensuring there is no discrimination against foreign companies. Hesaid he seeks to eliminate unnecessary regulations that could hamper business activity or foreign investment. “The government’s role is not to get involved and dictate how the market operates,” Mr. Yoon said. “My government will pursue a policy so that we can correct and normalize so that the market can operate as it should.”As a prosecutor, Mr. Yoon focused on corruption and misdeeds by the nation’s elites, even earning the nickname “the angel of death.” He put behind bars a pair of presidents who were his immediate predecessors as conservativeleaders. He hunted malfeasance at big business, including a corruption case involving the de facto head of Samsung. On his transition-office desk sat a single iPhone. Only about half of the country believes he will do a good job as president, according to recent polls. His recent predecessors, conservative and progressive alike, came into office having received some benefit of the doubt withSouth Koreans, attracting favorability ratings of roughly 80% or more. Mr. Yoon, for his part, hasn’t made many lofty promises, and lower expectations from voters could mean he later wins over some detractors should he land some initial achievements, such as boosting employment or taminginflation, said Chung Min Lee, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia program. That would contrast with prior presidents who started out with higher approval ratings, then disappointed afterstumbling, he added. “Unless he really craters, I think he’ll actually build up his cachet,” Mr. Lee said. Mr. Yoon promises a tougher line on North Korea than the outgoing, left-leaning President Moon Jae-in, whoprioritized peace talks. The Yoon administration’s stance will be to call for the complete denuclearization of the Kim regime. But Mr. Yoon said he is willing to offer incentives to Pyongyang that go beyond the humanitarian assistance pledged by the Moon administration—so long as North Korea takes a first step toward disarmament. He pointed to allowingoutside inspectors to visit the North’s nuclear sites as an example of a first step Pyongyang could take. In return, Seoul would help galvanize investment in North Korea and consider providing critical information on technology.North Korea has allowed such inspections before, though not for many years. But the prospects today look low, given Pyongyang’s border restrictions over pandemic fears and disinterest in diplomacy. North Korea hasunleashed a string of weapons launches in recent months, including its first full-range intercontinental ballistic missile test in more than four years. North Korea has allowed such inspections before, though not for many years. But the prospects today look low, given Pyongyang’s border restrictions over pandemic fears and disinterest in diplomacy. North Korea hasunleashed a string of weapons launches in recent months, including its first full-range intercontinental ballistic missile test in more than four years. In Today's Paper Mr. Yoon has expressed a desire to boost deterrence against North Korea, including advocating for pre-strike capabilities should a Pyongyang attack look imminent. But sharing or deploying nuclear weapons with the U.S. inSouth Korea aren’t options under consideration, he said. He backs what he calls extended deterrence that could include more vigorous intelligence sharing or carrying out more field exercises. Joint U.S.-South Korea military drills have been scaled back for years following a directive by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. They have become largely computer simulations, including annual springtime exercisesthat began April 18. Mr. Yoon envisions a return to field exercises by the fall or next spring. He isn’t sure of the size or precise timing, and any decision would require consultation with the U.S. But, he added, “In some way, we will see a resumption ofthese joint field exercises.” Continuing tensions between the U.S. and China could be both an opportunity and a risk, Mr. Yoon said. He believes there are ways to ensure peace, co-prosperity and co-existence with the two countries. On the campaign trail, Mr.Yoon stated a desire to have mutual respect with Beijing. “However, if we are seen as being ambiguous or flip-flopping in our foreign policy, then it could very well become a risk,” Mr. Yoon said. Upon taking office, Mr. Yoon said his top domestic priorities would be to help businesses and individuals recover from the pandemic. He criticized the current Moon administration for keeping restrictions for too long. He alsopromised to pursue deregulation—even by working with executive orders or other maneuvers that don’t require legislative signoff. South Korea’s official presidential compound, located at the foot of a mountain in northern Seoul, was long called the Blue House, named after the color of the roof tiles. But Mr. Yoon will relocate the entire compound to centralSeoul where the country’s Defense Ministry is located. He plans to ask fellow South Koreans to help name it. But in the interim, Mr. Yoon has come up with his own name: the “People’s House.” —Peter Landers in Tokyo contributed to this article. Write to Timothy W. Martin at and Gordon Fairclough at Source: The Wall Street Journal (