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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 1)

All News 09:42 January 01, 2020

Start over again
Time to end conflicts, seek national unity

Last year was a tough year not just for politicians and policymakers, but also for the people. As the New Year dawned, it is time to start all over again to leave conflicts and divisions behind in order to bring about reconciliation and national unity.

It is disappointing to see 2019 pass with no progress in settling peace on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea refused to denuclearize, only calling for sanctions relief. It continued to test-fire short-range ballistic missiles. Nuclear talks with the U.S. have been stalled since President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un failed to strike a deal in Hanoi in February.

The deadlock dealt a serious setback to President Moon Jae-in's policy of active engagement with the North. The Kim regime threatened to take a "new path" unless the U.S. came up with concessions by its arbitrary year-end deadline. It is somewhat relieving to see Pyongyang pass the deadline without sending an ominous "Christmas gift" to Trump.

This year the North may soon end talks with the U.S. and resume tests of ICBMs or nuclear weapons. Kim is likely to announce a policy shift ― from dialogue to confrontation ― in his New Year address. If that is the case, Moon's peace initiative could go up in smoke. So it is important to keep up the momentum for dialogue with the North no matter what. Moon should step up cooperation with the U.S. and other powers to keep the North on course for denuclearization and peace.

It is also urgent for Seoul to find a diplomatic solution to the ongoing trade dispute with Tokyo. For this, South Korea must go all-out to settle old scores with Japan over thorny historical issues such as wartime forced labor and sex slavery. Both sides should restore trust by narrowing the differences over their fraught history. Seoul also must wrap up defense cost-sharing talks with Washington successfully to protect its national interest and preserve the bilateral alliance.

On the domestic front, the country faces a difficult task of ending divisive and confrontational politics. The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) need to minimize the fallout of the railroading of two fast-tracked bills for electoral and prosecutorial reform. This has raised conflicts with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP). The rival parties should stop their dog-eat-dog partisan struggles to better serve the people. President Moon had better keep his campaign promise to embrace the opposition for "cooperative politics."

It is equally important to overcome ideological conflicts between left and right, which culminated in a corruption scandal involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family. Moon should not compromise his anti-corruption drive. He must put actions before words to create a fair and just society.

Most of all this administration should put a top priority on economic recovery. It needs to change its rigid economic policies to help the slumping economy regain its vitality. For this, it is essential to push deregulation and innovation. Creating more jobs and improving the livelihoods of the people are also imperative.

All these are easier said than done. Yet we hope the country can make a fresh start to ensure 2020 will be a better year.

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