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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The South Korean President on Tuesday emphasized the importance of building “strong security capabilities” so the country can determine its own future, in a speech on his budget plan to enhance the “power of peace” on the peninsula.
Speaking at the National Assembly, President Moon Jae-in detailed his government’s fiscal achievements over the last two and a half years and proposed the government budget for 2020.
Moon suggested the four major goals of the budget proposal and tax law revisions, which include “peace for a bright future.”
“The Korean peninsula is now facing its last hurdle in stepping towards permanent peace. [This hurdle] is the wall of denuclearization that we must cross together,” Moon said.
“Only dialogue can bring down this wall. But we cannot speed up by ourselves since we have a counterpart and must go together with the international community,” he continued.
“But compared to just two years ago when nuclear and missile threats were amplified by anxiety about war, the path we have to go down is clear.”
Moon said the South must “make every effort to hold dialogue for peace” and have faith in “the development of history.”
To achieve this goal and enhance the “power of peace” on the peninsula, the South Korean President said that national security must be reinforced.
“Strong security is absolutely essential in deciding our own destiny,” Moon said.
“The focus of our national security is [to act as] a deterrent force against North Korea,” he continued, but added that “even if unification is achieved someday we must have strong security capabilities in order to become a dignified sovereign state in the midst of the great powers.”
As part of these efforts, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) in August announced a defense budget of more than KRW 50.15 trillion ($42.8 billion) for the next year, 7.4 percent up from this year.
This is the first time that military spending has gone over KRW 50 trillion, increasing by approximately KRW 10 trillion ($8.53 billion) within the two and a half years of the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in government.
Speaking at the National Assembly, Moon on Tuesday said the country will “reinforce key defense systems, including next-generation indigenous submarines and reconnaissance satellites.”
The South Korean defense ministry asked for KRW 659.6 billion ($563 million) to build the Jangbogo III, a locally-produced next-generation submarine. A total of KRW 234.5 billion ($200 million) was allocated to the acquisition of military intelligence satellites.
North Korean internal and external media have repeatedly disparaged the South’s plans to enhance its military capabilities, describing them as a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement of September 19, which was signed as an annex to the Pyongyang Joint Declaration.
However, the South Korean President has often reiterated the government’s security policy of “peace through strength.”
In October 2018, Moon said that “peace through strength is the mission of our Armed Forces, and a genuine protagonist in an era of peace is none other than a strong military,” in his speech marking the 70th Armed Forces Day.
The President earlier this month also said the “powerful force” of the South Korean army is protecting the dream of “everyone living on the Korean peninsula” being able to enjoy peace and prosperity generation after generation.
In his remarks celebrating the 71st Armed Forces Day, Moon continued that “peace is not something to maintain but to create” and the “impenetrable security” of the armed forces enables the country to dauntlessly step toward permanent peace on the peninsula.
Speaking at the National Assembly on Tuesday, the South Korean President also highlighted the concept of a “peace economy,” a cornerstone of his North Korea policy, urging the DPRK to respond to his administration’s peace overtures.
“Once peace is established on the Korean peninsula, our economy will face new opportunities,” he said. “We will also strive to build a base for a ‘peace economy,’ in which peace on the Korean peninsula and economic cooperation are in a virtuous cycle.”
Moon said the government will endeavor to connect roads and railways between the two Koreas and further expand inter-Korean economic, cultural, and personal exchanges.
“North Korea’s bright future will only be possible upon this foundation. I urge North Korea to respond.”
August saw the South Korean President promise to open the door to a “new Korean peninsula” by pouring all of the country’s resources into the peace economy in a symbolic speech marking the Liberation Day.
Moon pledged to create “new economic growth through the peace economy,” continuing that the planned peace economy would “begin with efforts to continue dialogue and cooperation.”
A spokesperson for North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), however, criticized Moon’s speech the following day and said the DPRK has “no intention” to hold further inter-Korean talks.
The North denounced the South Korean President for commenting on peace while strengthening national defense capabilities, including the acquisition of F-35A stealth fighters and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Blue House