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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 29)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:05 October 29, 2018

Discontent with Moon
: Koreans let down by incompetence, fixation with NK

President Moon Jae-in's job approval rating is down to the 50 percent range amid a protracted economic slump.

According to a Gallup poll released on Oct. 26, 58 percent gave a positive assessment of the President, a 4 percent drop from the previous week. Another survey by Realmeter showed that 59.3 percent approved of his performance. This is a noticeable decline from earlier this year when his job approval rating was well over 70 percent after the June local elections where his Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) enjoyed an overwhelming victory.

The ratings reflect increasingly negative public sentiment toward the Moon administration mainly due to economic incompetence that is overshadowing some of the so-called diplomatic achievements.

The President just returned from a lengthy European tour starting in France earlier this month. Cheong Wa Dae trumpeted the tour as highly useful for gaining Europe's support for peace on the Korean Peninsula. But it was scorned by much of the Korean public after European leaders flatly turned down Moon's plea to reduce sanctions on North Korea.

Amid a damning job crisis, some critics thought the trip was ill-timed. It was unwise for the President to be absent for such an extended period while so many people were suffering from unemployment and financial difficulties.

In September, Korea's jobless rate hit 3.6 percent, up 0.3 percentage points from 2017. This is the highest September jobless figure since 2005. The number of unemployed people reached 1.02 million last month, up 92,000 from 2017. Despite the grave situation, the government has done little to address the issue, only coming up with half-baked measures such as expanding temporary positions in the public sector.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon recently said 59,000 temporary jobs would be added by the end of the year and taxes on refined fuel products would be reduced by 15 percent for the next six months as part of measures to invigorate the economy. Much of the Korean public is not at all convinced these will make much difference.

On top of the glaring economic incompetence, another problem with Moon is his fixation on North Korea. There are a lot of things Moon has done right regarding North Korea, but he is also being criticized for rushing to reduce sanctions on Pyongyang and obsessing over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's visit to Seoul within the year.

Many South Koreans would like to see a North Korean leader reciprocating our leader's visit. But most people still first want to see real changes from Pyongyang toward denuclearization. Moon's rush for improving inter-Korean ties is also out of step with the U.S., stoking fears of cracks in the Korea-U.S. alliance.

Moon's recent ratification of inter-Korean agreements such as the Pyongyang joint Declaration, the outcome of the latest inter-Korean summit in September, and the inter-Korean military accord were also heavily criticized by opposition parties as premature. Moon's popularity will wane significantly if he keeps up his unilateral ways on diplomacy with North Korea.

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