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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 6)

All News 07:05 October 06, 2020

Improper behavior
Foreign minister should apologize for husband's overseas trip

Controversy has flared up over Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha's husband visiting the United States to purchase a yacht and take a holiday despite a "special travel advisory" recommending people to refrain from making unnecessary overseas trips to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The advisory stops short of a total travel ban but asks people to cancel or postpone nonessential tours to facilitate quarantine efforts.

Lee Yill-byung, a professor emeritus at Yonsei University, wrote in his blog about his plan to buy a Kanter 51 Pilothouse and sail along the U.S. eastern coast to the Caribbean Sea. His act seems to be inappropriate in light of the fact that more than 7.3 million people, including President Donald Trump and his wife, have been infected with the COVID-19 in the United States. Lee already traveled to Vietnam in February despite the travel ban advisory. He purchased an air ticket to Greece in June, but later cancelled the flight.

He was spotted at Incheon International Airport, Saturday, and said, "The coronavirus will not disappear in one or two days. I cannot stay at home every day. It is my life and I am not supposed to read others' mind only." In a sense, Lee's remark is understandable given the long-persisting pandemic forcing social distancing and self-isolation at home. A majority of people might want to enjoy their lives just as Lee did.

But most people abide by the government's advisory because they put a priority on quarantine and security over their private lives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the special travel advisory March 23 and extended it until Sept. 18. There is a public consensus that overseas travel should be refrained from unless it is inevitable for official or business purposes.

The ruling and opposition parties alike have heaped criticism on Lee by noting it is improper for a family member of the foreign minister who is in charge of issuing the overseas travel advisory to take a trip purely for his own purposes. Against this backdrop, the question may arise: How can the government ask the people to continue to refrain from making overseas trips? Even Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, described Lee's behavior as "inappropriate."

Top-ranking officials and their family members need to maintain a proper code of conduct equivalent to their status and role. Kang tried to get out of the controversy by expressing regret for the case during a meeting with ranking ministry officials. She should offer an official apology to the people for failing to prevent her husband from taking such an "extravagant trip" at a time when the people are refraining from engaging in outdoor activities.

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