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Where’s the self-reflection? (KOR)

July 05,2019
Many ask if the government is working in the country’s national interest, given the poor state of its foreign and economic policy. The Japanese government has warned of retaliation against the Korean court rulings on wartime labor issues through various channels from the beginning of the year. Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso floated the idea of restricting money transfer and visa issues to Koreans long ago.

There are reports that Japan has up to 190 measures it can use against Korea. But our government has stayed nonchalant, repeating noninterference on judiciary matters. It has been of little help on the economic front. The Moon Jae-in administration kept income-growth led policy intact despite the widening tolls on our economy from its market-unfriendly and anti-business actions. The government now admits that growth for this year could be slowed to 2.4 percent.

There has not been any self-reflection or contingency plan. Officials simply came up with excuses and belated actions. There is no sense of urgency either. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is at fault for failing to use diplomatic means to prevent such a mishap. When asked about potential Japanese retaliation over the wartime labor row last month, she said the government wouldn’t tolerate it. But after Tokyo announced an export embargo on key materials necessary for chip production, she said the government would have to study measures according to the developments.

Officials at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy are sadder. Deputy minister Cheong Seung-il and Yoo Jeong-yeol, assistant minister for industry policy, held a meeting with executives from chip and display makers after learning of the export curbs from Japan. The participants said they were appalled when officials asked them why they had not been aware of such a move from their operations and intelligence in Japan.

The government is transferring its responsibility to protect public properties and livelihood to the private sector. All these should have been foreseeable when Tokyo strongly protested the Supreme Court ruling in October last year. An hour before the opening of the Group of 20 summit meeting Osaka, Japan last week, Japan flatly turned down Seoul’s offer of creating a joint fund to compensate individuals for wartime labor. Tokyo wouldn’t accept a compromise when it was already ready to retaliate.

In its second-half economic policy outline, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance has cut this year’s growth estimate to 2.4 to 2.5 percent from 2.7 percent, putting the blame on deteriorated external trade conditions. The government may still be unwilling to let go of its risky policies despite the damages on the domestic economic front from sharp increases in the minimum wage and corporate tax. The government must end to its internal problems first.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 4, Page 30