Patting his own back
President Moon Jae-in's New Year's address on Monday failed to convince the public of his optimism about the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite a fast-approaching end of his term in office, the speech was full of groundless self-praise. The commander in chief did not demonstrate a willingness to change course in leading the country. Moon suddenly championed national reconciliation without mentioning the possibility of granting special pardons to two former conservative presidents behind bars. Despite deepening public disgruntlement with his ideology-driven policies, he refrained from speaking about the unprecedented conflict between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl except for a fleeting moment of regret over his administration's never-ending real estate fiascos.
On sensitive issues related to people's livelihoods, Moon kept patting himself on the back. He seemed convinced of a successful recovery of our economy in the first half of the year. But the public isn't buying it. People are increasingly protesting the government's unfair application of social distancing standards to different businesses. Due to a critical dearth of hospital beds and medical professionals and the absence of Covid-19 vaccines, above all, the public must live in fear until it gets them. Meanwhile, jobs for people in their 40s — the backbone of our economy — have been decreasing for more than two years, while only part-time and temporary jobs continue increasing thanks to fiscal stimuli.
Capitalizing on apparent security schisms between South Korea and the United States, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has brazenly declared to build an "impeccable nuclear defense shield as a nuclear state" and threatened to "advance reunification of the fatherland" based on reinforced military power at the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party. Moon has repeatedly underscored Kim's will to completely denuclearize and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. But the North Korean leader vowed to reinforce military power by developing a nuclear-powered submarine and ultra-supersonic missiles after amending his ruling party's rules.
A president's New Year's speech must present clear directions for a country's future, not far-fetched visions. But Moon's address was packed with rosy rhetoric on the economy and inter-Korean relations. We seriously wonder if he only sees what he wants to see.
If a country is to progress, it needs an infusion of vitality into the corporate sector. The key lies in facilitating investments and creating jobs. That calls for a president's close communication with business leaders. For his goal of achieving national integration, the first step certainly is pardoning the two former presidents. If so-called K-quarantine is to succeed, the government must minimize damage to mom-and-pop store owners and take preventive action to prevent group infections in public institutions like the Dongbu Detention Center.
Last year, Moon's politics frustrated — and outraged — the public, as clearly seen in the ruling party's railroading of controversial bills through the legislature and shaking the very foundations of our democracy. To escape from a multi-layered swamp of policy failures, the president must shift priorities to a strong national defense and harmony rather than sticking with dogma and populism. A decisive moment has come for Moon — and we hope he grasps it.
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