(ATTN: COMBINES story slugged Park-economy plan; ADDS details, byline, photo)
By Chang Jae-soon
SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday she will establish a "preparatory committee for unification" with North Korea to map out a blueprint for how best to become one nation with the impoverished communist neighbor.
She also pledged to expand dialogue and exchanges with the North.
The move underscores Park's commitment to inter-Korean unification. In recent months, she has talked about unification many times, saying repeatedly that it will be an economic "bonanza" for South Korea as well as a blessing for neighboring countries too.
It also came as relations between the two Koreas have been showing signs of improvement.
"If we are going to realize genuine peace on the Korean Peninsula and a quantum jump of the Republic of Korea, it is necessary to make preparations for unification that would open up a new era of the Korean Peninsula," Park said during a nationally televised address to announce an economic innovation plan.
Germany successfully realized unification as it made preparations one by one, she said.
"I will do my best to lay the cornerstone and realize unification of the Korean Peninsula without fail," she said. "To this end, I will launch the unification preparatory committee under direct control of the president to study systematic and constructive directions of unification."
Park also said she will expand dialogue and civilian exchanges with the North.
Relations between the two Koreas have shown signs of improving in recent months after suffering from high tensions last year following North Korea's nuclear tests and strong war threats against the South and the United States.
Earlier this month, the two sides held their first high-level talks in seven years and reached a final agreement to hold reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War and work together for better relations.
The family reunions have been under way since last week at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort, allowing hundreds of people from the two sides to meet their long-lost relatives for the first time since the Korean War.
The conflict ended in a truce, leaving the peninsula still technically in a state of war.
During the address, Park also announced a package of ambitious measures to boost South Korea's economy and fix various problems hampering its growth, vowing to raise the country's growth potential, achieve economic growth reaching 4 percent and increase its per capita national income to more than US$30,000 and the employment rate to 70 percent.
South Korea has been trapped in relatively low growth in recent years amid global economic difficulties. The three-year reform plan seeks to help Asia's fourth-largest economy break out of the protracted sluggish trend and make what Park calls a "quantum jump."
"There will be no future for us unless we break the protracted cycle of low growth by changing the fundamentals of our economy and rectify abnormal practices," Park said in the address timed to coincide with the first anniversary of her inauguration.
Park first outlined the economic reform plan during her New Year's news conference last month, saying it would focus on strengthening economic fundamentals by rectifying problematic practices deeply rooted in South Korean society, pursuing her signature "creative economy" vision and boosting domestic demand.
Tuesday's announcement was a fleshed-out version of this vision.
Park renewed her commitment to reforming debt-ridden public institutions, removing investment-hampering regulations, rooting out unfair market practices, strengthening the country's social safety net, realizing her "creative economy" vision and pursuing more free trade deals.
Specifically, Park said the government will cut the debt ratio of public institutions to 200 percent, invest 4 trillion won ($3.7 billion) in promoting venture start-ups, and increase research and development investment to about 5 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
She also said the government will go back to the drawing board to re-examine investment-related regulations and remove all unnecessary red tape while introducing a cap on the total number of regulations by easing or eliminating existing regulations when introducing new ones.
"Deregulation is the only way to increase investments without any cost," she said.
Park also pledged to create 500,000 jobs for young people and 1.5 million jobs for women.
The ambitious economic plan shows that Park sees the economy as a top priority in her second year in office and that she is committed to making the ambitious vision a reality as the time-definite plan requires tangible results before her term ends in early 2018.
The plan is also reminiscent of a series of "five-year economic development plans" that her father and former President Park Chung-hee carried out to lift war-torn South Korea from poverty in the 1960s and '70s.
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