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Full text of President Moon's special address for a World Health Assembly session

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

The following is an unofficial translation of President Moon Jae-in's speech for the 73rd World Health Assembly. It was provided by Cheong Wa Dae.

"Freedom for all"

Honorable Chair and Director-General,
Delegates from various nations,

I find it greatly meaningful to speak before the World Health Assembly, a gathering convened to overcome COVID-19 and usher in new hope.

First of all, I would like to offer my deepest condolences and words of comfort to the victims of COVID-19 all over the world.

Moreover, my utmost respect and gratitude go to the medical and quarantine professionals in each country putting themselves at risk to protect the health and safety of humanity.

Today, I would like to introduce to you the choice made by the Korean people to overcome COVID-19 -- the choice of a freedom for all.

The Republic of Korea was one of the first countries hit by COVID-19, and we had to swiftly identify a solution against the aggressive virus.

In that moment of crisis and challenge, the Korean people made a bold decision.

We took our own individual freedoms and turned it to an even greater freedom -- freedom for all.

Rather than regarding our neighbors as dangerous spreaders of the virus or enforcing nationwide lockdown measures, we chose to protect their safety for the sake of our own safety. In order to uphold free movement and keep the economy going, the Korean people chose to wear face masks, and participate actively in social distancing.

Even in the face of this social distancing, however, we grew closer and our hearts fonder. Health care workers gave their all through volunteer service, while citizens encouraged them through various acts of sharing.

In the recent nationwide general elections, despite the rigorous quarantine procedures in place, over 29 million Korean voters went to the ballots. As a result, we had a true celebration of democracy all without a single new infection, with an even higher voter turnout than usual.

This idea of protecting our neighbors developed further to include the neighbors beyond our borders. We kept our borders open and maintained our ties of exchange while also providing diagnostic kits, face masks and other supplies as much as we could.

The Korean people displayed the highest form of civic virtues to practice the spirit of "freedom for all" and voluntarily participated in quarantine efforts. This was what really enabled the three main principles of openness, transparency and democracy to flourish. The government also supported the people‘s efforts with swift, widespread testing and creative approaches.

The Republic of Korea, however, has not yet achieved complete victory over this virus. We have transitioned from social distancing to distancing in daily life and are working to balance our daily lives with ongoing quarantine efforts, and yet we are still seeing instances of sporadic cluster infections. Moreover, the ongoing global pandemic still poses grave threats. If we do not come up with a viable treatment option or a vaccine, a new wave of infections could break out once again.

However, one thing is absolutely clear. Sharing information and cooperating with one another demonstrate a power that no virus will ever have -- a power that only humans possess. COVID-19 is threatening our freedoms, a universal virtue of all humankind, but it is solidarity and cooperation, based on such freedoms, that will prove to be the strongest weapon we have to triumph over COVID-19.

Honorable Chair,
Distinguished delegates,

Based on the spirit of a greater freedom for all, I would like to make three proposals for overcoming the current crisis and preparing for its aftermath.

First, we must expand our humanitarian assistance for countries with vulnerable health care systems, and share our quarantine experiences. Until the day everyone is free from COVID-19, we must work together and leave no one behind.

This year, the Republic of Korea is planning to provide humanitarian assistance worth 100 million US dollars. Our response to the crisis, our immigration policies and other such experiences and data we have accumulated during this outbreak will be continuously shared with the international community. To safeguard the health of all humanity, we will continue to work closely with the WHO.

Second, in order to develop vaccines and treatments, we must cooperate beyond our borders.

Furthermore, such vaccines and treatments are public goods that must be distributed equitably to the whole world. The Republic of Korea fully supports the efforts of the WHO to develop vaccines and treatments.

The Republic of Korea is also working with GAVI, the Global Fund, Unitaid and the International Vaccine Institute as a donor country, and this year, we will begin contributing to CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Third, we must update the WHO International Health Regulations and other relevant norms and augment them with binding legal force.

A novel infectious disease could emerge at any time, and we must be able to respond more quickly and effectively. Infection-related data should be shared among countries in a more transparent manner, and an early warning system and a cooperation mechanism must be jointly established. At the G-20 and ASEAN Plus Three Summits, various measures for cooperation were proposed, and I hope they will be made more concrete.

Honorable Chair and Director-General,
Delegates from various nations,

In the face of crisis, humankind must choose "solidarity and cooperation" over the pursuit of individual interests. The world must unite under the banner of mutual trust and inclusiveness in the face of deepening crisis.

If the international community firmly commits to the greater cause of freedom for all, we will undoubtedly overcome the current crisis quickly and bolster our hope for the post-COVID-19 era.

Thank you.
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