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Creating healthy dialogue

June 12,2017
As expected, U.S. President Donald Trump declared a withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. He claims that climate change is a hoax. He thinks creating jobs in the United States now is more important than melting icebergs and rising sea levels. Scientists and experts in other fields remain fiercely opposed. Though one thing I envied in the controversy were that businessmen were not afraid to convey their opinions against the president.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from Trump’s advisory council in protest of the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. On his Twitter, he wrote, “Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.” More than 100 companies, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, eBay and Uber to name a few, followed to declare their support for the Paris agreement. Apple CEO Tim Cook told the employees that they are responsible to fight climate change. CEOs of IT companies with liberal corporate cultures were not the only ones to go against the president. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, said that he was disappointed with president’s decision and said that, “Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

They clearly announced that they are going in a different direction than the president. This is unthinkable in Korea, where politicians and businessmen have specific power dynamics. Korean industries have decided that it was wiser to keep quiet and please the politicians. After all, their wealth lasts longer than the five-year presidential term. Recently, President Moon Jae-in is pressing industries to implement his campaign promises, and the relationship still hasn’t changed. Dialogues are not going well as the industries are not treated as partners in reviving the economy. The Korea Employers Federation had a different stance on irregular employees, but backed off.

Companies that are tamed by the government’s direction could become accomplices to another kind of cozy relationship between politics and business. The impeached president and businessmen who were involved in the Choi Soon-sil scandal are on trial now. This vicious cycle can be broken if the two parties communicate as equal partners. A necessary precondition for a healthy horizontal relationship is that the businessmen come clean about their corruption and unlawful conduct related to succession and slush funds.

Last month, Baek Seong-hak, chairman of YoungAn Hat, said, “I’ve been claiming that irregular employment and productivity issue cannot be resolved without tackling the ‘privileged’ labor unions. The National Assembly didn’t pay much attention. My company survived tax inspection. Korea is a small country, and we had to move abroad.”

JoongAng Ilbo, June 10, Page 26

*The author is a New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SHIM JAE-WOO