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Balancing the legacy

May 19,2017
It may not have entirely been an overstatement. In his first week in office, President Moon Jae-in has been proving he has been “prepared” for the job as he said throughout his campaign. Former President Park Geun-hye and her government blamed the opposition for making little progress in their work because they got in their way. Instead of waiting for the legislature, Moon has been signing executive orders to solve issues he can tackle one at a time.

As soon as he was sworn in, he ordered a committee devoted to create jobs. He allowed the popular anthem banned by the conservative governments to be sung at the state-administered May 18 Gwangju Democracy Movement memory ceremony and killed the controversial policy of universal state-publication of history textbooks.

Even the opposition — the conservative camp — admits that it is impressed with Moon. A poll shows that 75 percent of those surveyed had positive reviews on Moon’s performance. The president, however, must not gloat. He must be more discreet. He could do more harm if he pushes too far, emboldened by public approval and entirely erases the policies and legacies of the Park administration.

Moon must remember that he is earning the praise not only because he is doing well, but because his predecessor did so badly. He has the benefit of being compared to the worst example. If he sets out to undo every policy of the former administration under the name of divorcing with the past evils, he too could face a backlash.

All administrations made the same mistake. Park killed the signature green growth policy of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak. The green growth policy was aimed to promote renewable energy by replacing carbon-emitting cars with environment-friendly vehicles and promoting power reactors run by pollutant-free sources. It also could have set the Korean industry ahead in the fourth industrial revolution. But Park killed the policy because it reminded her of her predecessor. The presidential committee devoted to tackle the low birth rate and aging population also was shunned because it was born during the previous government.

The new administration must succeed at the policies worth sustaining. The so-called creative economy slogan had been incubated on ambiguous terms. But by 2013, start-ups were bred through active investments. Venture funds jumped 17.9 percent last year from 2015 to 3.2 trillion won ($2.9 billion). More attention has been paid to startups due to vitalization in the environment. Liberalization, deregulation and promotion of investment instead of loans helped bring life to the start-up habitat.

The policy planning advisory board that would map out a five-year plan on domestic and foreign policies would have a big role. It must be selective on policies that would help sustainable growth. It must remove regulations to create more jobs in the service sector and reform the labor market to achieve what Moon promised — growth through increased income.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 18, Page 34