-What kind of president would you like to become for the U.S.-based Korean citizens?
▶I kept a close eye on Korean citizens in the U.S. who participated in the candlelight protest recently. To rid our government of corruption, approximately 17 million South Koreans lit up their candles over the winter for five months. That wasn’t just to impeach a president. That was an effort to lead Korea’s longstanding corruption to finally collapse. The biggest problem today is inequality among our people. There are the third generation of young people who inherited assets from parents and grandparents who founded the large conglomerates. On the opposite side, there is a large group of young people who are struggling to find jobs. This is a situation that directly reflects the inequality within our society.
The young people stood up at the forefront of the opposing movement against the president. They stood against the conservative and wealthy power that only aggravated the inequality in our country. I’m going to become a president who can initiate the innovation so that our country is headed towards a new, righteous direction for the future generation. I’m going to complete the mission that was started by the candlelight protest and change the direction of the ship that is Korea.
-What is your awareness of the overseas Koreans?
▶It’s regretful that I never had an opportunity to aggressively interact with the Korean community in the U.S. But I still remember a lecture I had in 2011 in the U.S. I met with the Korean students at Berkeley and engaged in conversations about peace on the Korean peninsula with the U.S. officials there. I am well aware that Koreans not just in the U.S., but also in Central and South America are trying to pave the way for a new lifestyle. I understand that they played a critical role in contributing to the image of our country. As a politician back home, I am always thankful to them for that.
-What are your plans to build the Overseas Koreans Center to secure and protect the rights of Koreans residing abroad?
▶According to the 2015 announcement by the Foreign Ministry, about 7.2 million Koreans are living around the world outside of our country. That is 15 percent of our country’s entire population and is essentially the same number as the combined population of Busan, Ulsan and Daegu. However, the policy to support this many Koreans is still limited.
The current foundation that was set up in 1997 to support the overseas Koreans is only scratching the surface in terms of its influence. The actual work that affects our citizens abroad is spread across various ministries. There have been efforts in the past to form a governing body to make a more effective system, but the plans haven’t come to fruition so far.
We’re living in an age of globalization. Anyone could be living abroad on any given day. Anyone could also become a direct relative or friends of another Korean who’s living abroad. Regardless of where you live, their rights must be respected and protected. That is why I’m making the promise to immediately establish the Overseas Koreans Center when I become president. I’m going to be at the forefront of the effort to make sure that the bill to allow establishment of the Overseas Koreans Center could pass in the congress.
I will expand the support for Koreans who may be involved in criminal cases outside of the country with the proper legal, security and translation services. I will also strengthen the current laws to make sure that the rights of overseas Koreans are further protected.
-What are your plans on allowing dual citizenship?
▶The 7.2 million overseas Koreans still have a very strong bond with their country. Our government has the responsibility to allow an even more active exchange between them and our country. For this presidential election, 298,000 Koreans abroad have signed up to become registered voters. That is 84 times higher than the election from 2012. I always thank our citizens abroad for their attention and affection. I’ll do my best to make sure that the communication between our citizens abroad and the country back home is more intimate than ever before. However, allowing broader dual citizenship is something that needs majority support from our citizens. I’ll consider it carefully under the notion that all Korean citizens must abide by our tax and military laws.
-Do you have plans to encourage more Koreans to move abroad?
▶ I believe that Koreans who pursue their dreams freely outside of our country should be supported more. I am very much aware of the past when our citizens left our country without any sort of support from the government. I believe that the government should come up with a strategic approach to support our citizens who are seeking a move abroad. The support system must ensure that our citizens who move abroad must understand the situation of the countries that they’re moving to as well as making sure that they have as much information as possible on what they must do to settle in a country that is not theirs. To do that, we need to get organizations from abroad and experts to chime in as consultants. By supporting our citizens that way, I will create an environment in which Koreans could be respected no matter where they are in the world.
-What are your plans to support overseas Koreans who are looking to return home?
▶South Korea is currently in crisis due to its low birth rate. The number of Koreans in the workforce as well as the consumers is rapidly decreasing. We need to welcome overseas Koreans who would like to move back. If Korea could become a land of opportunity for Koreans who are currently living abroad, that would be a great way to diversify our society. I believe that overseas Koreans with experience in different societies and political landscapes could contribute greatly to our country.
For me to realize my promise to build the Overseas Koreans Center, returning Koreans from foreign countries could be of great help.
-Overseas Koreans could visit North Korea more freely. It seems like they could play an important role in bridging the gap between the two Koreas. What are your thoughts?
▶I think that’s a good idea. However, it is my understanding that a strained relationship between the two Koreas also affected our citizens abroad. As South Korea’s policies on relations with North Korea has changed over the years, South Korean citizens residing abroad had a more active exchange with North Korea. Over the last 10 years, though, the conservative administration made that relationship has not been as active. If overseas Koreans could continue to engage in peaceful exchange with North Korea, that could help our country greatly.
By Wonyoung Lee