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Duty before belief

July 08,2017
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In February 2006, the Roh Moo-hyun administration announced that it would begin negotiations with the United States for a free trade agreement (FTA). The Korea-U.S. FTA led to a serious controversy.

In July, the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management surveyed 178 college students in the Seoul metropolitan area on the Korea-U.S. FTA.

A preliminary survey was conducted on the sample group, and after they listened to specialists’ discussion, a secondary survey was conducted to monitor changes in positions. As a reporter, I watched the debate with the students.

In the preliminary survey, 117, or 65.7 percent of respondents, said that the Korea-U.S. FTA would benefit national interest.

But after the debate, only 73, or 41 percent, supported the deal. Those who changed their positions said that the supporting arguments were theoretical while the opposing ones were specific. Personally, I was more impressed by the experts who spoke with conviction than the ones who calmly offered theories.

Around the same time, SBS conducted an opinion poll on the Korea-U.S. FTA on 800 Seoul residents, and the opposition went up from 41.5 percent to 45.1 percent, while support slightly decreased from 51.8 percent to 51.4 percent. The numbers are different, but in both surveys, opposition increased when respondents were better informed and attended expert debates.

But let’s look at the Korea-U.S. FTA results. After the summit with President Moon Jae-in, U.S. President Donald Trump said the trade deficit with Korea increased by $11 trillion since the FTA was signed, and, “It’s been a rough deal for the United States.” Now, it is in Korea’s best interest to prevent a renegotiation of the FTA.

What if the national poll was conducted and the government asked the people whether to sign the FTA with the United States back then?

The attempt to conduct public polls to expand citizens’ participation and reach a social consensus through discussion is very meaningful.

But it may not be appropriate to apply to the decision over whether to scrap nuclear plants that are being constructed, such as Shin Kori 5 and 6.

If the construction is suspended, at least 2.6 trillion won ($2.25 billion) would be lost, according to a government estimate.

The government is responsible for minimizing loss and securing stable energy sources. It may require reinforced safety for the plants under construction or consider a one-in, one-out plan to decommission one plant or every new one.

Even if a panel of citizens decides to suspend the Shin Kori 5 and 6 construction, we may someday need to operate nuclear power plants again. Then who will take responsibility for stopping the construction?

The public opinion survey should not be used as a means to avoid responsibility.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 7, Page 30

*The author is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

KIM WON-BAE