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The corona kowtow

Mar 06,2020
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The door of a Korean apartment in Anhui Province, China, is sealed off by Chinese neighbors to prevent coronavirus infections from spreading. [YTN]
Yi Jung-jae
The author is an columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is entirely the Moon Jae-in administration’s responsibility that banning entry of Chinese people has become a subject of political dispute. I am not talking about the effectiveness of epidemic prevention. The government made a reckless bet on the fate of Korea. President Moon said that Korea and China were communities with a common fate. It is something that one should not say easily. “China’s pain is the same as ours” can be diplomatic rhetoric. But communities with common fate can’t be.

What does “communities with a common fate” mean? I understood it as: “If China falls, Korea will fall, and if China thrives, Korea will thrive.” Then, the values and systems should be the same. How can China — a totalitarian autocratic country — share its values and fate with a free Korea? Who in Korea would agree to this? Did the president ask the people? I felt eerie when he said it. Where is he leading the country? Does he want to be tamed by China voluntarily?

In retrospect, I saw some gloomy signs from the beginning of the Moon administration. It kept silent on China’s economic retaliations on our deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. In 2017, preparations to bring the case to the World Trade Organization were completed, but they were not carried out. Officials said that the case had a 90 percent chance of winning. But I didn’t hear any explanation from the government as to why the case was not pursued. In the following year, after the United States issued safeguards on Korean washers, Korea immediately brought the case to the WTO. President Moon personally instructed his administration to respond confidently. The government confronted the United States as if trade and security were separate issues. The president didn’t care about the controversy over his anti-U.S. and pro-China stance. He gave up security sovereignty by promising “Three Nos” — no additional deployment of the Thaad system, no participation in the U.S.-led missile defense, and no development of the Korea-U.S.-Japan security cooperation into a military alliance — to China. Instead, President Moon praised the China Dream and considered Korea “Little China.”

There is no need to speak of others when the president acts like this. Then ambassador to China, Noh Young-min, now Moon’s chief of staff, wrote “Rivers will flow to the east” in a guest book in October 2017 and was criticized for having pledged loyalty to China. Only six months earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had told him that Korea had been a part of China. But the first ambassador to China in the Moon administration offered flattery instead of a protest. Korean people became “gutless.” It would have created an even bigger fuss if Japanese Prime Minister Abe had made the same remarks.

The shadow of subordination draws over Korea. The benefit of a nuclear phase-out has been monopolization by Chinese solar energy companies. Korean solar energy companies are going out of business. The Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) is considering allowing bidding by unqualified Chinese companies in domestic projects. The example of the Philippines, which lost energy sovereignty to Chinese companies, cannot serve as a lesson. While Moon’s nuclear-phaseout pledge is pushed despite opposition of the citizens, his promise to deal with fine dust from China is not kept — without any complaints to China. People are preparing masks according to the weather, and factories are in operation in China.

As the Moon administration becomes infinitely small before China, the pride of Korean people has been hurt over the last three years. The controversy over banning Chinese people’s entry fueled it. When China said “disinfection over diplomacy” — and Korean people’s houses in China are boarded up — Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said that Koreans entering from China are the cause for massive infections in Korea. When the entry of travelers from Korea people is restricted in 92 countries, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that the safety of our citizens is the priority, but there are other things to consider. What pride remains for the people of such a country?

There is someone who benefited from Korean people’s lost pride. It is President Xi. As Korea is nearly devastated by Covid-19, Xi is likely to avoid political responsibility. Xi is already congratulating himself, saying China responded better than Korea. Some countries even claim that an entry ban should be put on Korea, not China. And the Shincheonji church is easy prey. Xi ordered a complete probe on all followers of the sect in China. There is a prediction that Korea can be used as a scapegoat. The price of subordination is harsh. If this is the communities sharing a common fate that President Moon Jae-in referred to, I refuse firmly.