[OUTLOOK]Waffling on the rice import issue

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[OUTLOOK]Waffling on the rice import issue

Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye has taken the wrong path. Just like other politicians, she has been so careful about farmers and rural communities that she almost mumbles about the issues. Then recently, she suddenly showed an ambiguous position over the handling of a bill on rice imports, saying she could consider delaying voting on the bill.
In the end, Ms. Park is no different. She was considered to be prudent and consistent in dealing with pending issues, but as she hesitates and remains ambiguous on a certain issue, her action could be construed as being interested only in getting farmers’ votes.
There is no doubt that Ms. Park’s comment would influence those Grand National Party lawmakers who had already decided to vote on their own principles on the rice bill. It could justify those politicians concerned with getting votes from their constituencies to oppose the bill or give up casting a vote.
While the Uri Party has decided to support the bill, Ms. Park’s position could accelerate some Uri Party members to go against party opinion. I wonder how Ms. Park would respond if the bill is not passed in the National Assembly session and her political opponents attack her by making her responsible for the rupture.
There is another bigger problem. The national economy is bound to suffer. In fact, rural communities and farmers have nothing to gain from the postponement of the rice bill ratification. Rather, delaying it will be more painful to them. If Ms. Park still doesn’t know why, her ignorance will undermine her image as a future presidential candidate.
The precedent that former President Kim Young-sam had spent an enormous amount of money to keep his campaign promise to “prevent the opening of the rice market with his position at stake” has been cited more than enough. Throughout his term, the international market derided him. He was bullied on the stage of diplomacy and had to open the rice market in the end. The Kim administration spent a tremendous amount on restructuring agricultural communities, but farmers complained that their lives were harder. Nothing has changed today from a decade ago. No matter how hard farmers work, the international competitiveness of Korean rice continues to fall. Foreign farmers are working harder and producing better rice. Koreans need to realize that we are increasingly paying more for rice, as much as five to six times the international market price. It is a result of the rice safeguard policy, which fails to satisfy either the farmers in the Yeongnam and Honam regions or the urbanites in Seoul and Busan.
Ms. Park is heading an opposition party with relatively high national support. I wonder if she has reasons to believe that she could win more votes with a populist response to the agricultural issue.
If she truly believes that her move was legitimate, then she needs to reconsider her argument. Ms. Park has to contemplate whether her conviction to get more votes from the Honam region is futile. Even if her rivals are making comments to please the public, she needs to tactically distinguish herself with a competitive policy vision.
Politicians always forget that they can never fool farmers. The farmers know better than anyone that opening of the rice market is an international current and undeniable trend of the time. However, the farmers can only rely on a primitive means of expressing their opinion, resisting and protesting in the streets. Hardly any politician tries to persuade and talk about the future with them.
After more than a decade of restructuring, there still are a considerable number of poor farming families. Politicians do not mention prosperous or middle-class farmers.
They need to find a way to enhance productivity by understanding the essence of the poor farmers under the shadow of the prosperous farmers and letting the rich farmers take the initiative.
Most of all, Ms. Park needs to withdraw her ambiguous position on the rice import bill. It is a part of her training to become a presidential candidate. Citizens want a politician with conviction.

* The writer is the editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine NEXT. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Chul-joo

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