Ex-construction boss Lee Myung-bak was sworn in as the Republic of Korea's (ROK) new president yesterday, promising business-like pragmatism after a decade of ideological policies he said had left the world's 13th largest economy adrift.
"Economic revival is our most urgent task," Lee said in his inaugural speech after taking the oath of office as the ROK's first conservative president in a decade.
ROK people gave the former high-profile construction executive - nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for his can-do image - a landslide victory in December's election on his pledge to revitalize the economy and take a less conciliatory approach to the North.
"We must move from the age of ideology into the age of pragmatism," Lee told some 60,000 people who gathered for his inauguration, taking a swipe at the past 10 years of liberal rule during which he said "we found ourselves faltering and confused."
Bursts of applause from the audience often interrupted Lee's address in front of the dome-roofed National Assembly building on a cold, overcast day.
The ceremony included a military parade, a 21-gun salute and a choir singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda were among dignitaries at the ceremony.
Lee, 66, also called for a stronger alliance with top ally Washington, a relationship that sometimes frayed under predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, and implored the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to forgo its nuclear ambitions and open up to the outside world.
Lee said he would launch massive investment and aid projects in the North to increase its per capita income to $3,000 within a decade "once North Korea (the DPRK) abandons its nuclear program and chooses the path to openness."
In his first meeting with a foreign leader as president, Lee and Japan's Fukuda agreed to hold regular summits and consider reviving stalled free trade talks, both sides said, raising hopes of friendlier relations following strained ties in recent years.
Lee later met with Chinese President Hu Jintao's special envoy Tang Jiaxuan, asking Beijing to "play a role in getting North Korea to fulfill its commitments" under a stalled nuclear disarmament deal, Lee's spokesman said.
Tang - China's senior foreign policy advisor - conveyed a message from the Chinese president to Lee. In the message, Hu extended his congratulations to Lee and said that the Chinese government attaches great importance to ties with ROK and is ready to work with the South Korean side to promote bilateral ties in a comprehensive way.
Lee responded by asking the Chinese envoy to send his best regards to President Hu. He also wished China every success in hosting the 2008 Olympics, saying the event will promote China's development and benefit the ROK as well as the world.
In a separate meeting, Lee and Rice agreed to strengthen cooperation within the framework of the Six-Party Talks, officials from both countries said.
During a speech at a banquet celebrating his inauguration late yesterday, Lee said fully resolving the nuclear issue was likely to take time.
"There was some progress in the Six-Party Talks but there is still a long way to go toward the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear" weapons programs, he said.
Though Lee has vowed to broadly continue Seoul's long-standing policy of seeking detente with the North, he has said he will approach the country with a more critical eye.
His liberal predecessors - Roh and Kim Dae-jung - were accused by critics of showering unconditional aid and concessions on the North as part of reconciliation efforts while getting little in return.
Source: China Daily/Agencies