Beef blundersThe Lee Myung-bak administration is facing a crisis only three months into its term. Large-scale rallies continue to protest the resumption of U.S. beef imports, with demonstrators illegally blocking traffic in downtown Seoul.
On Thursday, when the government announced new quarantine restrictions that effectively open the Korean market to almost all U.S. beef cuts, 10,000 protesters gathered in Seoul and a total of 4,000 people participated in demonstrations in 12 major cities in the provinces.
The beef issue triggered latent anger over the new administration’s failures in personnel management, inefficiency and repeated mistakes. The government announced new quarantine restrictions without doing enough to ease concerns. The government should have read public opinion more carefully.
It is natural that people demand that the food they eat be safe. Of course, the groups that make use of such public sentiment for political purposes is a whole separate issue.
Though the government now argues that it has solved all the problems, including sovereignty for quarantines, through additional negotiations with Washington, the Korean people do not acknowledge this. Accordingly, even if the government repeatedly explains that U.S. beef imports are safe, it will be useless without the people’s trust. The government should take all possible measures to reduce Korean people’s worries about U.S. beef. This includes reinforcing inspections of labels of origin with consumer groups participating, and persuading businesses to voluntarily ban imports of beef from cattle 30 months or older. No government can win in a fight with the people.
President Lee should take these situations seriously. First, he should replace all incompetent and irresponsible ministers, including the one who is pouring tax money into ad campaigns saying U.S. beef is safe. A personnel reshuffle is an urgent task for this administration. And, in addition, the government should release special measures to improve the livelihoods of the working classes. Lee should take a humble attitude and make every effort to appeal to the people to resolve the current difficult situation.
Also, demonstrators in the street should ask themselves if it is right to demand the end of an administration that launched only three months ago. They should peacefully demonstrate in accordance with the law. They should be cautious about whether they are being used by people with ulterior motives who like instigating trouble.