Better Right Than Strong

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Better Right Than Strong

President Kim Dae-jung''s New Year''s press conference Thursday focused on the economy. He emphasized that from here on out it would be the central factor in his administration''s running of the affairs of state and promised several times to get the economy back on a solid footing before the end of his term.

Mr. Kim stressed the need to complete reform in four major areas in order to accomplish this and said that restructuring is indispensable to improving the economic situation and is the only course of action available at this time. Asserting that a strong government is one that adheres to principles and operates within the bounds of law and order, he added that all restructuring would be conducted in that fashion. The president said he was confident that the Korean economy can take off again if the government pushes forward with the proper measures and the public trusts the government and goes along with the reforms.

We would like to see President Kim''s good intentions made manifest in reality. Although his comments that "reforms are going well" in some places and the "corporate enterprises have begun to put their trust in restructuring" do not jibe with the actual situation as we know it, his assertion that restructuring must be carried out in strict accordance with correct principles and legal procedures has our wholehearted support. We ourselves have been insisting on that very same precept all along. The government must distinguish between what it should do and what it should not do and be bold and unwavering when its path is clearly the proper one. This is not a matter of being strong or weak, but of being right.

If by "strong government" the president means a government that will divorce itself from its previous tendencies to pussyfoot around, to apply only interim solutions and to ingratiate itself with the public in order to gain popularity, then he has our full support. We worry, however, that he may be implying a return to the days of dictatorial management of economic development, especially in view of the way economic measures have been applied since the "strong government" motif first emerged at the end of last year. The arm-twisting used on creditor banks in the takeover of outstanding company loans by the Industrial Development Bank, while the Korea First Bank dares to reject the offer, was too reminiscent of the days of direct government control of the financial sector. The government''s putting off the restructuring of certain troubled corporations is another matter for concern.

The pronouncements made on Wednesday by Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy Shin Kook-hwan on the restructuring of seven sectors, including the petrochemical industry, are a return to those bad old days. The manipulation of investment in heavy chemicals over 30 years ago and the "Big Deal" of two years ago, whereby conglomerates were forced to trade off certain businesses, were both failures, yet the government is using the same language today as it "asks" companies to "voluntarily" eliminate redundant facilities. Other efforts that have diverged too far from principle include the construction of seven new satellite cities and the increased investment in fund stocks to boost the stock market. If these are examples of the kind of strong government President Kim is advocating, we have much to worry about, indeed.

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