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Yoon pledges more support for overseas Koreans at launch of new agency

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President Yoon Suk Yeol, center left, presents Lee Key-cheol, center right, the inaugural head of the new Overseas Koreans Agency, with a signboard during the opening ceremony launching the new agency in Songdo, Incheon, Monday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, center left, presents Lee Key-cheol, center right, the inaugural head of the new Overseas Koreans Agency, with a signboard during the opening ceremony launching the new agency in Songdo, Incheon, Monday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to better protect and serve the needs of some 7.5 million Koreans living outside the country in a ceremony to launch the new Overseas Koreans Agency in Songdo, Incheon, on Monday.

“The Overseas Koreans Agency that we are launching today is an organization dedicated to overseas Koreans, befitting Korea’s elevated status and national prestige,” Yoon said at the inauguration ceremony. “The agency will not only protect and support them, but also play a role as a link to promote exchanges and cooperation between this group and their homeland.”

The new agency, headquartered at Booyong Songdo Tower, will take over and streamline the work previously handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s overseas Koreans policy department and the Overseas Koreans Foundation. It is expected to provide integrated services in areas including visas, taxes and pensions, as well as other tasks related to overseas Koreans’s affairs as a sub-ministry under the Foreign Ministry.

In his address, Yoon recalled meeting with the Korean victims of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing last month and stressed, “No matter where they are in the world, I believe it is the nation’s duty to care for the pain of our fellow Koreans.”

On May 19 during a trip to Japan for the Group of 7 Summit, Yoon became the first Korean president to meet with the Korean victims of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima which took place on Aug. 6, 1945. He apologized to the survivors that their home country did not help them during their suffering. Also during this trip, Yoon, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, paid respects to Korean victims of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Yoon and Kishida were accompanied by a group of survivors in the first such joint visit by the two countries’ leaders.

During Monday’s ceremony, Yoon again extended an invitation for the victims to visit Korea in the near future “to offer some comfort.”

He also highlighted that it is an essential mission of the agency to “ensure that the next generation of overseas Koreans maintains their identity as Koreans as well as ties to their country of origin.”

The government also needs to pay attention to second- and third-generation emigrants who were born and raised outside Korea, and provide Korean language courses and other programs to encourage them to visit and experience Korea so that “they can inherit their Korean identity with pride,” he added.

Yoon additionally called for efforts to reach out to groups that previously occupied a “blind spot” in government policies in the past due to the lack of a unified agency. These groups include Zainichi Koreans in Japan, ethnic Koreans in Russia’s far eastern island of Sakhalin and former miners and nurses dispatched to Germany, as well as those from multicultural families, adoptees, and overseas Koreans returning to Korea.

“Overseas Koreans are eagerly seeking a window of opportunity for their motherland and compatriots to grow together,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by some 100 people, while some 600 overseas Koreans from across the globe, including Asia, North America, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania, joined in remotely.

Lee Key-cheol, a former deputy foreign minister for overseas Koreans, was inaugurated as the head of the new agency.

Yoon named Lee, a career diplomat and executive director of the Korean Committee for Unicef, to the post on Friday. Lee previously served as ambassador to the Netherlands and as consul general in Los Angeles.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, beats a drum three times in a ceremony marking the launch of the new Overseas Koreans Agency held at Songdo Central Park in Incheon, Monday, with Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, center, and Lee Key-cheol, right, the agency’s inaugural head, looking on. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, beats a drum three times in a ceremony marking the launch of the new Overseas Koreans Agency held at Songdo Central Park in Incheon, Monday, with Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, center, and Lee Key-cheol, right, the agency’s inaugural head, looking on. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Following the inauguration ceremony, Yoon attended a celebration of the opening of the new office at the UN Square in Songdo Central Park attended by around 700 people, including politicians, representatives of civic organizations, overseas Koreans and Incheon residents.

“Incheon will become a more vibrant international city as the home to the Overseas Koreans Agency,” he said.

In March, Yoon signed a bill promulgating a revision to the Government Organization Act, which approved the creation of the Overseas Koreans Agency and enabled the upgrading of the Veterans Ministry.

The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which previously held a sub-ministry status, was launched as a full-fledged ministry in a ceremony at the Sejong government complex on Monday.

This is in line with another one of the 110 policy tasks pledged by the Yoon administration when it launched in May 2022.

Some 300 people including Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, veterans and the families and members of the diplomatic corps attended the inauguration ceremony.

Last Friday, Yoon named current Veterans Minister Park Min-shik, a former prosecutor and ex-lawmaker, to continue to lead the newly elevated ministry.

“We will make efforts to successfully establish the Veterans Ministry, which has just taken its first steps, so that patriotism can become the nation’s spiritual foundation and culture of the nation,” Park said in his inauguration speech.

Through the elevation of his ministry, Park will become a full-fledged Cabinet member and also be able to increase the number of staffers by 26 to 337.

The ministry also plans to take over the management of the Seoul National Cemetery, which is currently the only one of the 12 national cemeteries that remain under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry under the Act on the Establishment and Management of National Cemeteries.

The Veterans Ministry envisions Seoul National Cemetery becoming a Korean version of the United States’ Arlington National Cemetery, said Park, and “a symbol of a free Republic of Korea that people enjoy visiting.”

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, center left, and Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Min-shik, center right, take part in an inauguration ceremony upgrading the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs attended by some 300 people at the government complex in Sejong on Monday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, center left, and Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Min-shik, center right, take part in an inauguration ceremony upgrading the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs attended by some 300 people at the government complex in Sejong on Monday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

 

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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