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Overseas Koreans Agency chance for global business hub: Yoon

By Choi Si-young

Published : June 5, 2023 - 15:38

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President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during an event to commemorate an opening ceremony of the Overseas Koreans Agency in Incheon on Monday. (Joint Press Corps) President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during an event to commemorate an opening ceremony of the Overseas Koreans Agency in Incheon on Monday. (Joint Press Corps)

A new agency that will be exclusively in charge of representing the interests of 7.5 million overseas Koreans will help Incheon rise as a global business hub, President Yoon Suk Yeol said Monday, launching the body he promised a year ago to advance the country’s business ties.

The Overseas Koreans Agency offers one-stop services for Koreans who have acquired permanent residency in a foreign country, who once held Korean nationality or who are lineal descendants of someone who once held Korean nationality. The Yoon administration wants to take advantage of business ties enjoyed by such individuals through streamlining the services they need, from visas to taxes.

“The agency will do more than protect and advance the interests of our fellow Koreans overseas. It will expand ties among them and help them to contribute to the local economy,” Yoon said, stressing that the body will create momentum for Incheon to make a global ascent as the city manages overseas Koreans’ “business network,” essential in promoting Korea’s reach.

Incheon is home to one of the world’s largest and busiest airports and the country’s first free economic zone, a government-designated place meant to boost investment and trade. The city houses the agency’s headquarters while Seoul runs a smaller office dedicated to handling complaints.

But the agency’s first job, Yoon added, is inviting South Korean survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The Korean leader last month met with some of those victims on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting held in the city, vowing to sympathize with their suffering in an official setting.

An estimated 20,000 Koreans are believed to have been affected by the blast. But little has been done by the South Korean government to recognize their suffering until Yoon’s visit to Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. There, Yoon and his Japanese counterparts paid respects to the Korean victims -- the first time for a Korean president to do so.

Meanwhile, the Yoon administration launched a new Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs the same day, having appointed a Cabinet-level minister to lead the body, which used to answer to the defense minister. The upgrade in status -- also part of Yoon’s campaign pledge he made just before he took office in May 2002 -- shows how serious the government is about honoring veterans’ sacrifices, Yoon administration officials say.

Park Min-shik, the new minister of the Veterans Ministry, echoed a similar sentiment, saying his ministry will make recognizing veterans a “foundation of Korean identity” in an inaugural speech during a ceremony marking the launch.

According to Park, the ministry will soon put together plans to better recognize veterans, from providing veterans and their families with benefits they are entitled to but that have not been afforded to setting up parks to commemorate their sacrifices.

“It’s becoming increasingly less common for people to take pride in their country and feel a sense of community. A divide between generations and along the party lines is growing and we need to step up our efforts to highlight the role of recognizing the sacrifices veterans have made for this country,” Park said.