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Out of sync

Aug 14,2019
In a Blue House meeting with government ministers on Monday, President Moon Jae-in demanded they refrain from emotional responses to Japan’s economic retaliations for the Supreme Court’s rulings on compensation to wartime forced laborers. Moon underscored the need for a cool-headed approach to the crisis while finding fundamental solutions to Tokyo’s export restrictions. We welcome his remarks as they reflect a determination as head of state to avoid expansion of the dispute to foreign affairs and security issues. But high profile officials continue to make senseless comments despite their boss’s calls for restraint.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Kim Sung-joo, chairman of the National Pension Service (NPS), said the NPS is considering the idea of excluding Japanese companies involved in war crimes from its investments. At a critical moment like this, however, it is not appropriate for the head of a government pension service to take such a stance. The NPS provoked criticisms after announcing plans to get more involved in the management of companies it invests in. If Kim’s ideas are put into action, that could trigger a strong public backlash against the government trying to flex its muscle over foreign companies.

If the NPS chooses that path, it can invite an dangerous situation. According to a reliable source, 299 Japanese companies took advantage of hundreds of thousands Korean workers during the colonial period. The NPS invested approximately 1.23 trillion won ($1 billion) in 75 of them as of the end of 2018. They include Toyota, Sumitomo Metal, Hitachi and Toshiba. If the NPS withdraws or stops its investment in those companies, the trade row could expand to the financial sector. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund invests about 7 trillion won in our stock markets. If that money flees, it could trigger a domino effect of other foreign capital.

Other remarks have been notable. In a radio interview, Kim Hyun-chong, a deputy director of the National Security Office, said that he had not asked Washington to mediate between Seoul and Tokyo as Japan’s strategic materials were minimal. We are dumbfounded by such a comment from a senior official in charge of the government’s trade policy. What benefits could he gain by resorting to such an emotional — and childish — approach?

A responsible government must do its best to deal with crises. This is not the time for government officials to waste their energy in waging a unnecessary war with Japan.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 14, Page 30