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President of the Republic of Korea addresses Parliament

21 November 2023 (updated on 21 November 2023)

The President of the Republic of Korea

The President of the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Yoon Suk Yeol, visited Parliament on Tuesday 21 November.

President Yoon Suk Yeol addressed both Houses assembled in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, gave a welcome speech and the Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, responded to the President’s address.

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Speech by Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle

Mr President, distinguished guests, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is an honour to be able to welcome you to Parliament as Speaker of the House of Commons.

I met my counterpart, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of South Korea at the G20 Speaker’s Conference in India in October and we had a productive discussion about parliamentary connections between our countries.

These links between our countries are already strong with 140 years of diplomatic ties, and this visit will strengthen them.

The mutual respect and strong working relationship between the two Governments is also clear, but there are older, stronger, sadder ties which bind us.

It is particularly fitting that we are able to welcome you this year, 2023, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

The Korean War, fought to prevent the totalitarian government of the north from taking over the whole of Korea, was long, and bloody. Millions died, civilians and combatants alike.

16 countries joined the United Nations Forces to respond to the invasion of Seoul, and the war shaped the world we live in now.

That war is sometimes referred to as the ‘forgotten war’ in the United Kingdom but it is most definitely not forgotten.

In Korea, Hill 235, now “Gloster Hill” in memory of the stand taken by the Gloucester regiment at the battle of the Imjin river, and our troops on deployment in Korea pay their respects at the memorial there.

81,000 British service personnel served in that war, and, war memorials across the United Kingdom remind us of the of the 1,100 who were killed in action.  

In my constituency of Chorley in the North West of England at least one man was a prisoner of war in Korea. The local war memorial records the loss of rifleman Reginald Washer from the Ulster Rifles.

Reginald was injured whilst fighting in Burma in the second world war. He was recalled for service in Korea where he was again wounded. When he recovered he rejoined his unit but was sadly killed in action on 25 April 1951 and is buried in Korea. He was 29 years of age and left behind a wife who he had been married to for 5 years and a daughter. He was to have been released from service just 4 months later.

I honour his memory, and the memory of all those who died fighting for freedom in Korea. 70 years later, we still remember.

In the years since the war, the Republic of Korea has thrived. It is now the tenth largest economy in the world – and a generous donor of aid. In 2009 it became the first aid recipient to join the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee and now itself is a major donor.

International cooperation secured democracy, prosperity and freedom. But the Republic of Korea continues to exist in the shadow of a totalitarian regime.

Given this history, it is no surprise that your country, Mr President, has offered staunch support to Ukraine, a country which faces a battle for its very survival, its freedom and its way of life, just as the Republic of Korea did over 70 years ago.

Your announcement of over 2 billion dollars of aid for Ukraine at the G20 was welcomed.  Your country knows what it is to be bordered by an oppressor.

But there are other, happier links, formed from personal experience.

Members of the Commons may remember Dr Ashok Kumar, an MP, a former research scientist, and a great friend of mine. What they may not know is that as a result of his research for British Steel, Ashok went to Korea to share his knowledge about reducing air bubbles in poured steel – and I remember vividly the warm account he gave of your country.

Ashok’s expertise was in steel – Korea’s engineering strength is well known – it is hardly surprising that the first aid project for Korea was to complete the Hwanji railroad line.

Nor is it surprising that this expertise developed into many related areas.

It is certainly no surprise to me that the top goods the UK imports from the Republic of Korea are cars – one of the largest importers and dealers of Kia and Hyundai in the country is based in my constituency.

And we mustn’t forget the signing of the Downing Street Accord between our two countries prioritises not just defence, security, energy and trade, but also science and technological co-operation.

There are other exchanges that the world may know less about.

In 1999 Queen Elizabeth planted some trees in Andong city during her visit to the Republic of Korea. Among them was an apple tree. Andong city sent the harvest from those apples to Her Majesty and myself as Speaker and each year, on the occasion of Her Majesty’s official birthday, we always welcome the wonderful apples.

I very much appreciate this symbol of lasting friendship – it is full of meaning – and utterly delicious.

We are bound together by history, by trade, by national and local links – and of course by people who share the values of democracy.

And so Mr President, it is a particular personal pleasure to welcome you to address both Houses of Parliament.

Speech by President of the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Yoon Suk Yeol

My Lord Speaker, Mr. Speaker, my Lords, members of the House of Commons, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my great honour to stand before the British Parliament – the Mother of all Parliaments.

The United Kingdom has been the pioneer of modern history.

It laid the foundation of liberal democracy. It opened the era of global market economy.

The British people’s strong belief in freedom sparked the Glorious Revolution. It was the birth of modern parliamentary democracy.

The British parliamentary democracy inspired political revolutions in America, France, and in other parts of the world.

Democracy has taken root in nations.

Freedom and human rights became the property of every individual.

In the late eighteenth century, the Kingdom of Great Britain led the Industrial Revolution.

It innovated the way we produced goods. It changed the economic paradigm.

It achieved an incredible, rapid economic growth which the world had never seen before.

It is no wonder why London became the world’s financial centre since the early nineteenth century.

Liberal democracy and market capitalism were all born right here in the United Kingdom.

These British ideas changed every aspect of our lives. They have promoted freedom, human rights, and economic prosperity around the world.

And I know very well that Parliament has always been the heart of this great nation.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons, the United Kingdom was the first European nation to sign the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with Korea in 1883.

John Ross was a missionary from Scotland.

He translated the New Testament into Korean for the first time in 1887.

Earnest Bethell was a journalist from Bristol.

He founded The Korea Daily News in 1904. He also fought for Korea’s independence until he passed away at the age of 36.

Frank Schofield was a missionary and veterinarian from Warwickshire.

He took part in Korea’s independence movement and established a scholarship fund for Korean students in need.

In 1950, the United Kingdom did not hesitate to defend Korea’s freedom.

When the communist invasion put the fate of Korea on the brink, the United Kingdom sent eighty thousand troops to Korea.

It was the second largest sending state.

More than one thousand British men and women sacrificed their lives to defend the freedom of a faraway country they never knew.

Lieutenant Colonel James Carne and his battalion, the first Glosters, showed great courage at the Battle of the Imjin River.

Like the unit’s motto ‘By our deeds we are known,’ the noble sacrifice of the British Army will forever remain in the memory of the Korean people.

Today we are honoured to have Mr. Colin Thackery with us. Mr. Thackery, of course, is the winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2019.

But he is also a proud Korean War veteran and Korea’s honorary Veterans Minister.

On behalf of the Korean people and the government, I thank you with deep gratitude and respect.

This past July was the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement.

Mr. Thackery visited Busan again, the city where he first landed during the Korean War.

There, he sang for the fallen heroes lying in rest at the

It was a Korean folk song called ‘Arirang,’ a song of remembrance for beloved ones.

His song touched everyone’s heart.

The war reduced Korea to ashes.

When it desperately needed foreign assistance, again the United Kingdom did not look the other way.

The United Kingdom contributed more than twenty-six million dollars to the UN Korean Reconstruction Agency.

The United Kingdom supported the establishment of Ulsan shipyard, Gori nuclear powerplant, and Ulsan Institute of Technology.

As the second largest contributor, it helped Korea lay the foundation as an emerging industrial economy.

Thanks to the support from the nations of the free world like the United Kingdom, Korea has since written a story of miraculous success.

Korea was one of the least developed countries.

Now it is an economic powerhouse leading the semiconductor industry and digital technology sector.

Korean culture is winning the hearts of global citizens. Once a recipient of aid, Korea is the only nation in modern history to become a donor.

My lords and members of the House of Commons, this year we celebrate the 140th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

It will be an important and meaningful year for our partnership.

Last spring, the United Kingdom forces participated in the Korea-United States combined exercise for the first time.

We are building new mechanisms for intelligence sharing and cyber security cooperation.

Together, we will tackle North Korea’s WMD threats. We will work more closely together to combat international  cybercrimes including cryptocurrency theft and technology hacking.

Our bilateral trade and investment have thrived in many areas like finance, logistics, service, and bioscience.

The FTA between Korea and the United Kingdom that took effect in 2021 has added further momentum.

We will begin negotiations to modernize the FTA to strengthen cooperation on supply chains and digital trade.

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Sunak and I will sign ‘the Downing Street Accord.’

Our bilateral relations will be reborn as true ‘Global Strategic Partners.’

Together, we will build a free and open international order.

Together, we will cultivate sustainable growth and prosperity for all of humanity.

We will broaden our cooperation to digital, AI, cyber security, nuclear energy, and defence industry. It will also include bio, outer space, semi-conductors, offshore wind, green energy, and the maritime sector.

I kindly ask for your interest in and support for this partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen we are now faced with a new set of challenges. There are geopolitical risks like the war in Ukraine, the Israel and Hamas conflict, and the North Korean nuclear threats. They make unity of the international community harder to sustain.

There are supply chain disruptions, climate change and digital divide. They are widening economic inequalities among nations.

Arnold Toynbee said, ‘Civilizations come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges.’

The Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom are authors of dynamic and creative histories.

We must stand in solidarity and respond to many of the world’s challenges.

One country alone cannot defend peace.

Korea stands united with the United Kingdom and the international community to fight against illegal aggression and provocations.

We will uphold established norms and international order.

Korea will work with the United Kingdom to bolster the political and economic security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Korea and the United Kingdom will seek ways to utilize nuclear power and other clean energy sources.

At the same time, we will assist countries most affected by climate change in their efforts for green transition.

The new digital age presents us with new challenges to our freedom and democracy.

AI and digital technology must serve to enhance freedom and well-being.

We also need to prevent potential harm that may arise due to their connectivity and speed.

Thus, we need to establish a universal norm that will be accepted by the international community.

Prime Minister Sunak has shown strong leadership in shaping a new order for the digital age.

He convened the first ever AI Summit at Bletchley Park earlier this month.

I was there online to take part.

Last September, the Korean government announced ‘The Digital Bill of Rights.’

It sets forth five guiding principles of freedom, fairness, safety, innovation, and solidarity.

The Korean government is committed to leading international dialogue and cooperation on shaping new digital AI norms.

It will work with the United Kingdom’s AI Safety Network and the United Nation’s High-level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.

In addition, we will put more efforts to bridge the digital divide and drive digital innovation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Korea and the United Kingdom share histories of glorious challenge and response.

But we also share our charm in culture and arts.

The United Kingdom is the country of the Beatles, Queen, Harry Potter and David Beckham’s right foot.

Korea is the country of the BTS, Black Pink, Squid Game and Son Heung Min’s right foot.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Winston Churchill once said, ‘the price of greatness is responsibility.’

It is time for us, as innovative partners, to contribute to a better future for humanity.

The Republic of Korea, in partnership with the United Kingdom, will join hands to promote freedom, peace and prosperity for the international community.

It was a great honour for me to share with you at Westminster the future that Korea and the United Kingdom will shape together.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, let me end by paraphrasing a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

‘For this friendship may so happy prove, to turn our challenges to pure opportunity.’

God bless the great nation of the United Kingdom and its people.

Thank you very much.

Speech by Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith

Your Excellency, Mrs Kim, my Lords, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen.

On behalf of both Houses, it gives me great pleasure to thank you for those wise words about the strong relationship which our two countries enjoy.

Your visit comes during a year of anniversaries. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War, in which over 80,000 members of the British Armed Forces fought alongside their Korean allies. We remember those who did not return. We are privileged to have with us a veteran of that war, Chelsea Pensioner Colin Thackery, whom I had the pleasure of hearing sing Arirang at the Festival of Remembrance last weekend.

This year also marks 35 years since the Seoul Olympics and Paralympics where two sporting members of the House of Lords, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Lord Holmes of Richmond, won the first of their many medals. The Seoul Games showed us a vibrant, modern Korea and, since then, the cultural impact of your nation has developed with great momentum.

Just a few stops by Underground train from here is the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum. Its recent exhibition ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ showcased the colourful and dynamic popular culture of your country and the global impact it has had on so many of the creative industries.

The recent rise of online streaming services means millions of UK homes are now enjoying Korean dramas, such as Squid Game, and Extraordinary Attorney Woo, which highlights the strengths that neurodiverse people can bring to the workplace. And UK movie lovers applauded the film Parasite when it made history as the first non-English language film to win the Oscar for best picture.

Now, Mr President, I’m a little too old for the K-Pop music scene myself, but my grandchildren are among huge numbers of young Britons who have taken Korean bands like BlackPink and BTS to their hearts and into the charts. Even in the older generations, some of us have learnt how to dance Gangnam Style. Mr President, I hear that you too are an accomplished singer, having performed at the White House with President Biden earlier this year. I’m only sorry there wasn’t time to invite you to sing for us today.

Our countries share a passion for football, and a number of Korean stars currently grace the English Premier League. Across north London children wear Tottenham Hotspur shirts with the name of their captain, Son Hueng-Min, emblazoned on the back. The global stardom of Son reminds us of the earlier success of Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, the first Asian player to win the European Champions League. My own team, Glasgow Celtic, were sadly eliminated from this year’s Champions League which followers of Scottish football will recognise as a familiar story. But we recently signed three Korean players so – who knows – perhaps we might enjoy greater success next season?

Your nation enjoys huge cultural and sporting prominence here in the UK. But the economic and trade relationship between our countries must also be emphasised.  Over the last four decades, the global economic position of South Korea has shifted enormously. The UK finds itself enriched in so many ways as a result of this, and of the advances in technology and innovation that have fostered and sustained it. I’m sure many here today drive Kia and Hyundai cars and some are likely to remember the excitement of the first MP3 players. Korea is recognised as an international leader in science, industry and technology.

And crucially, we also have many shared values. The building we are gathered in today stands as a symbol of the United Kingdom’s decision to take the path of democracy. Your country made a similar choice in the last century, at the cost of considerable struggle and sacrifice. That choice has borne fruit in the most spectacular way. Over the past seven decades, the Korean people have seen their nation develop from a recipient of international aid to an OECD donor country and a worldwide beacon for prosperity, stability and openness. This transformation is exceptional in global economic history.

Today we stand side by side in our shared commitment to uphold international security, democratic principles and the rule of law. Since the signing, last year, of the Bilateral Framework for Closer Cooperation, collaboration between our nations has broadened and deepened on key policy areas. We also benefit from the establishment of greater links in health, environment, science, trade – and crucially - people to people engagement. Your visit is an important milestone in developing and enhancing this key relationship in the years ahead.

So, Mr President, it has been a great honour to welcome you to Parliament, and I hope that your visit to the UK is an enjoyable one. I wish you and the people of the Republic of Korea well for the future.

Thank you, Mr President.