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Listening to the seniors?

May 10,2019
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Kang Chan-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I made strong recommendations to President Moon Jae-in because I thought he must succeed. I told him, ‘Although what you are doing is just, things without outcomes must be changed.’ But the president did not say much. In the end, he said, ‘There may be social discord over the minimum wage and 52-hour workweek, but we should reach social consensus on a bigger frame.’ So I felt that he was going his way,” said Postech Prof. Song Ho-keun, who is considered an intellectual sympathetic toward the Moon administration.

When I asked him about how he felt about the “conversation with seniors” at the Blue House at the invitation of President Moon on May 2, he shook his head. “The president could say in courtesy that he heard my opinion well, but he flat-out said, ‘No.’ I wondered why I was called. I think he was only pretending to listen in the second year of the administration,” said the professor.

Lee Jong-chan, who served as National Intelligence Agency director in the Kim Dae-jung administration, said he was worried about Korea-Japan relations. Yet Moon said Japan was using comfort women and the forced labor issues politically. Prof. Song said, “I was surprised. Actually, it is Korea that is using comfort women and forced labor issues politically. That is an out-of-body speech.” Former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo lamented, “In short, there was no plan for Korea-Japan relations. The more we talk about political exploitation of those issues, the more disadvantaged Korea becomes. But the president does not have the awareness. I grew worried because he did not talk about a Korea-Japan summit to resolve the discord.”

Prof. Song’s analysis, in particular, attracted my attention. “As President Moon evolved into a politician, he seems to have a strong belief that Japan was doing wrong, and he should correct it. This is not a belief a political leader should have, and if this is revealed, our diplomacy would be in trouble,” he said.

President Moon heard a painful remark from the former Blue House chief of staff, Kim Woo-sik, who had served in the Roh Moo-hyun administration with Moon. On the nuclear phase-out pushed by Moon, Kim said, “Nuclear energy research is very important, but scholars went abroad. The government’s nuclear phase-out policy is a bad mistake.” Yet Moon did not respond.

Former Environment Minister Yoon Yeo-joon, who served as head of the National Unity Committee for Moon’s election campaign in 2012, said, “I am tired of the government’s crusade to root out so-called past evils.” But Yoon could not argue further because Moon said the government cannot control the prosecution’s investigations.

So I interviewed Yun.



Q. After the conversations with the seniors, is Moon likely to change policies?

A
. After the meeting, I thought he was inflexible. Such people are generally stubborn. I don’t think he will easily change his mind.



Yet as the third year of his administration and the general election approach, he may attempt a shift toward the right?

It would be difficult. Since his inauguration, President Moon has focused on inter-Korean relations and income-led growth the most. Yet as the latter is already ruined, only inter-Korean relations remain. For inter-Korean ties, controlling internal discord is essential. Yet at the April 27 Panmunjom summit banquet, Moon did not invite opposition parties or National Assembly leaders. It shows there is little possibility of a rightist move. As he is going alone without the legislature, it will make inter-Korean relations drift and intensify internal discord. Moon provided a reason for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party to feel revitalized two years after the impeachment.



It is fortunate that Moon met the seniors. The seniors did not meet with the president without preparation. Economic seniors brought five to six pages of notes they wanted to share when they visited the Blue House.

Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan said, “Everyone came thoroughly prepared. I brought the least, only two pages of notes. But all the president said was, ‘It was helpful.’” So it is hard to find a senior who expects him to embrace their advice to change his policy.

Former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo said, “When I met President Moon, he seemed worried. While he smiled during conversations, he seemed to be aware that he was being cornered. I think diplomatic isolation is most dangerous. He seems to know that at this rate, next year’s general election will be tough. Fortunately, the new Blue House staff are better than their predecessors. I hope he changes course before it’s too late.”

JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 29