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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 11)

All News 06:59 May 11, 2020

Leadng Korea
President Moon pledges to expand unemployment insurance

Marking his three years in office Sunday, President Moon Jae-in addressed the nation on both crisis and opportunity in the COVID-19 era, vowing to respond boldly to the worsening economy.

To that end, his administration will strive to make Korea a globally leading "digital powerhouse," create more jobs through the "Korean New Deal" and expand unemployment insurance. Moon said he will upgrade the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the control tower behind the much-lauded Korean quarantine system, to the Disease Control and Prevention Administration.

The details in the special address are not novel, with the exception of the President's official pledge to expand unemployment insurance. But buoyed by his 71 percent popularity, Moon lent a persuasive push to urge the National Assembly -- and the public -- to cooperate.

Moon expanded on the Korean New Deal by saying it was a "preemptive investment" to found a digital infrastructure and create jobs, he said. He added that contactless industries that fared well amid the virus onslaught such as medical services will be intensively fostered. Regarding possible job loss in building the digital infrastructure, Moon said the task will require massive labor. Further buttressing job disappearance will be the expanded unemployment insurance and ramping up on employment support programs.

To his credit, the President minced no words in addressing the crisis at hand. He said the economy was in a wartime situation, "with no bottom and no end in sight." He did not dismiss a possible second wave of COVID-19 in fall or winter, and urged continued vigilance over recent infection cases. The stress on inter-Korean cooperation took somewhat a backseat to the dire economic situation, and rightly so as North Korea has yet to respond to Seoul's proposal for cooperation on fighting pandemics.

The economic vista ahead amid the pandemic is grim. With the global economy forecast by the International Monetary Fund to contract 3 percent, and that of South Korea to shrink 1. 2 percent this year, a change in how we grow economically and protect people is inevitable. Yet, we have to ask, however, whether there is sufficient time, financial resources and relevant action plans to realize the President's vision, and to ask people to take part in the burden-sharing.

In his address, the President identified Korea's "DNA to overcome crisis" and expressed deep gratitude to the people for their work in "relatively rapid stabilizing of the pandemic." It would be hard to deny the swelling of pride when he mentioned the goal of "a Republic of Korea that takes the lead in the world." The President no doubt knows that such sentiment can be exponentially transformed into powerful energy, only if properly channeled.


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