Gala Opening Dinner
Acting President - Prime Minister
Republic of Korea
Chairman Nicholas Platt, Distinguished Guests and Ladies and Gentlemen;
On behalf of the Korean Government, I welcome you all to Seoul.
I am delighted to see this 14th Asian Corporate Conference take
place here. And, my heartfelt congratulations go to all of you and
to Asia Society.
For the past half century, Asia Society has continued its committed
work to promote better understanding of Asia among American people.
Korea deeply appreciates this important contribution of Asia Society
and thanks the leadership of the organization for the great achievement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Northeast Asia has now emerged as the world’s economic powerhouse.
This was made possible by China’s well-known dynamism, together
with the proven records and potentials of Korea and Japan.
And, this 14th Asian Corporate Conference of Asia Society properly
notes this new dynamics, with its theme, “Envisioning the
World’s Next Great Market: Korea and the Economic Future of
Without a doubt, Northeast Asia deserves the recognition for being
one of the most dynamic regions of the world. It has a total population
of more than 1.5 billion. The total amount of international trade
conducted by the economies in the region amounts to 2 trillion US
dollars. The region currently accounts for 20 percent of the global
GDP, but forecasters say the share will exceed 30 percent in 10
to 15 years. There is no doubt that, together with Europe and North
America, this region is one of the three pillars of the global economy.
And, within this important region, Korea sits at a highly strategic
location that links the Eurasian continent to the greater pan-Asia
Pacific and vice versa.
But, this location alone does not offer all the comforts. It is
particularly so, as we recognize the fact that this region has yet
to overcome the legacy of ‘zero-sum’ competition and
march together into a ‘win-win’ era.
Korea recognizes this challenge, as we hold on firmly to the national
vision to promote peace and prosperity for all in the region.
To realize this vision, we work on two goals. First, we are determined
to work out North Korea’s nuclear situation—based on
peaceful means—and maintain peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Second, we are committed to building the foundation and environment
to realize a regional economic hub in Korea.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What add to the aforementioned advantageous geographic location
for Korea are our IT infrastructure, good-quality human resources
and commitment to higher education.
These points of our strengths offer the bases, upon which we work
on our ambition to become regional hubs for logistics, finance and
Incheon Airport and Busan and Gwang-yang Seaports offer world-class
logistics infrastructure. And, we have recently introduced the world’s-fifth-ever
high-speed express train called KTX. This KTX offers the starting
point of the 21st century iron silk road that will continue on through
the Trans-Korea Railroad—that we are working on to reconnect—and
further continue on into Europe through the Trans-Siberian and the
For sure, physical infrastructure alone does not bring everything.
We know that international businesses will have to bring their investments
to Korea, if Korea really wants to become a regional economic hub.
So, we are working hard for that.
We have designated Incheon, Busan and Gwang-yang as ‘Free
Economic Zones’ where international investors can come in
freely and conduct their businesses freely. After these recent designations,
a US corporation, Gale, and a British corporation, Amec, have become
the starters that join these zones and open their corporate operations.
We are also committed to improving our system of incentives offered
to foreign investors. That is why we continue to revise laws and
regulations designed to promote foreign investment and to offer
tax and other benefits.
We are also keenly aware of the needs for further improving living
environment for international business managers and other professionals.
That is why we recently announced a plan to open a new foreign school
in Yongsan, one of the central districts in Seoul. We are also working
to come up with a 17 percent single-rate earned-income-tax system
for foreign managers and employees. In addition, we are in the process
of introducing cash grants to foreign high-tech investments.
Indeed, we are determined to make Korea’s business environment
better than those of our competitions. We recognize that one of
the important tasks in doing so is continuous deregulation drive.
Relating to this issue, we recently set up
in my Office of Prime Minister. I myself have taken direct charge
of this Center, in order to ensure efficacy and expediency in improving
the business environment.
In pursuing our goal of building a regional financial hub here
in Korea, we are working to improve our financial systems—including
foreign exchange market—to meet global standards.
We are doing this, keeping in mind that we should be able to build
a financial hub specializing in asset management. We know that the
large sizes of foreign exchange reserve and public pension funds
we have will offer favorable bases to pursue this goal.
To make this possible, we will actively invite international asset
management companies and encourage domestic competition. We are
also planning on establishing Korea Investment Corporation for this
On labor issues, we have no disillusion. Labor relations in Korea
have been a liability for our economic growth. We saw, early last
year, eruptions of numerous labor disputes, as expectation ran high
for the newly inaugurated administration.
However, by the end of the year, number of illegal strikes has
decreased by as much as 60 percent as compared to the previous year.
We also saw a 20 percent drop in workday loss. We believe that the
which was launched
in May last year played a key role in making these improvements
This year, management and labor leaders came up with ‘Job
Creation Accord’ where the labor ledged moderation on wage
increase demands and the management pledged cooperation for job
The Korean government is encouraged by this Accord. And, we will
continue the efforts to promote cooperation in labor relations and
to improve labor laws and regulations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Peace on the Korean Peninsula is an absolute prerequisite for ensuring
peace and prosperity in the entire Northeast Asian region.
So far, what made peace possible on the peninsula and in the region
has been the Korea-US alliance. Now, this long-time friendship is
entering a more matured stage.
Thanks to this firm alliance, the Korean government, together with
those of neighboring powers, has been able to pursue peaceful resolution
of North Korean nuclear issues. And, recently, we are making important
progresses to this end.
For instance, we succeeded in creating a mechanism of working group
meetings at the second round of the Six Party Talks. This is an
important step towards making the discussion channels regular and
At the same time, the Korean government continues to pursue South-North
bilateral economic cooperation efforts, which includes joint projects
for building an industrial complex in Gae-sung and reconnecting
And, inter-Korean ministerial talks are continuing. And, a high-level
military meeting has been agreed just last week. Looking at all
of these developments, you can be assured that tangible and meaningful
progresses are being made towards achieving permanent peace on the
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the past two months, Korea has gone through the first ever experience
of presidential impeachment. Despite this great challenge, however,
we have succeeded in ensuring great stability in the country. And,
we held a National Assembly election that went down the history
as the cleanest ever.
As the result, Korean people produced a stable political landscape
where the party that supports the President came in as the majoirty
in the legislature, which has not happened for the past 16 years.
What’s more, we saw many reform-mined, young and new faces
joining the legislature.
We know this progress in politics will place Korea a level higher
in its long efforts to further develop democracy toward greater
transparency and maturity. In addition, this result will offer additional
momentum for reform, which will make Korea a more competitive economy
and a better place to do international business.
In other words, the result of the recent election will strengthen
and speed up what we have been working on, rather than introducing
any new change of directions. It is particularly so with regard
to economic policies and foreign relations.
In economic policy, we will see continuity in our main direction,
with emphases on market principles and openness. In labor relations,
we will continue to seek cooperation and win-win by implementing
what has been already agreed. We will pursue a virtuous circle of
greater economic growth leading to improved equity.
In foreign relations, we will seek to further strengthen our alliance
with the US and continue on with the overall directions of flexibility
and practicability that we have maintained so far.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Korea’s volume of trade amounts to as much as 70 percent of
our national GDP. This alone justifies our policy for actively promoting
openness that we have pursued all along.
We recently had our first Free Trade Agreement with Chile take
effect. Now, we are discussing such agreements with Japan and Singapore.
We are also undertaking domestic feasibility studies for an FTA
with ASEAN. Private-sector-led feasibility studies are jointly underway
in Korea, China and Japan for an FTA among the three countries.
Along with these, we will continue on with our active participation
in multilateral efforts for promoting global openness at the WTO
Doha Development Agenda negotiations.
On the subject of regional cooperation, what we are seeking is
strengthening of the networks of interdependence. We know that East
Asia has lagged behind other regions in regional cooperation. For
this reason, we will find greater willingness to catch up together.
And, in these regional efforts, what we are pursuing is not exclusion,
but inclusion. Based on the principle of ‘open regionalism,’
we will work to steer regional cooperation towards creating greater
common goods for the global community.
Distinguished Guests and Ladies and Gentlemen,
Korea hopes to become a bridge—a ‘bridge of peace and
prosperity’ that leads all of us into a new century of Northeast
I hope this Corporate Conference will offer us more great ideas
for what to do to become such bridge.
Now, welcoming you all once again and wishing you health and—most
of all—the success of this conference, I would like to propose