President Yoon Suk Yeol underscored that South Korea-U.S. ties have been upgraded to a “nuclear-based alliance” amid escalating threats from the North in a Memorial Day address Tuesday.
“North Korea is advancing its nuclear and missile capabilities and has legislated the use of nuclear weapons,” Yoon said in a morning ceremony at the Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong, Seoul.
“U.S. President [Joe] Biden and I jointly announced the Washington Declaration in April, which dramatically strengthens the execution of extended deterrence of U.S. nuclear assets. The South Korea-U.S. alliance has now been upgraded to a nuclear-based alliance.”
On April 26, Yoon and Biden during their bilateral summit at the White House adopted the Washington Declaration establishing a mechanism to strengthen U.S. extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning and manage the threat to the nonproliferation regime posed by North Korea.
“Our government and military will protect the lives and safety of the people by establishing an ironclad security posture based on the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which is stronger than ever,” Yoon added in his nine-minute address.
He highlighted the importance of remembering national heroes who devoted themselves to protecting the people, including war veterans, police officers and firefighters.
“South Korea is a country where the people are the owners, standing on the sacrifices and dedication of those who devoted themselves for the independence and founding of a country built upon liberal democracy, defending freedom against communist totalitarianism,” Yoon said.
He said that “the dignity of a nation depends on who it remembers and how it remembers them.”
Yoon also stressed the government will continue efforts to uncover the remains of soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.
“Although 160,000 Korean soldiers died to protect the country, the remains of 120,000 were not found, and 37,000 U.S. soldiers also were killed,” said Yoon. “I will do my best till the end so that our fallen heroes can return to the arms of their families.”
He highlighted the role of the newly upgraded Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which previously held a sub-ministry status and was launched as a full-fledged ministry the previous day.
Some 7,000 people attended the 68th Memorial Day ceremony, including Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su, Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho, along with military officials including Kim Seung-kyum, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and leaders of rivaling political parties including People Power Party Chairman Kim Gi-hyeon and Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung.
Yoon briefly shook hands with Lee during the ceremony.
Earlier that morning, Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee attended a burial ceremony for the late Kim Bong-hak, an Army private first class, who died in the Korean War, at the Seoul National Cemetery.
Kim was killed during the Battle of Bloody Ridge in Yanggu County, Gangwon, in September 1951. His remains were first discovered in 2011 and DNA tests of surviving relatives finally confirmed his identity in February of this year.
He was buried alongside the remains of his younger brother, Kim Seong-hak, an Army private first class who also died during the Korean War defending the 38th parallel near Chuncheon in December 1950.
The brothers’ remains were finally reunited 73 years after participating in the war.
The president also presented five individuals with national merit awards, including Park Hyun-min, a Navy sergeant, a survivor of the Cheonan warship sinking which killed 46 sailors after it was torpedoed by North Korea in 2010. Yoon thanked them for their dedication to the country.
After the ceremony, Yoon visited the graves of those killed in the Vietnam War and in anti-espionage operations, said the presidential office, the first time in 42 years that a Korean president has visited the burial site which was created in 1981.
Late Army Lt. Col. Park Sun-yu, father of Veterans Minister Park Min-shik who fought in the Vietnam War and died in action in June 1972, is also buried at this site.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]