A gift for the tycoons

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A gift for the tycoons

The meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and heads of conglomerates Monday particularly attracts our attention. First of all, it took place in a conference room at the Federation of Korean Industries, not at the Blue House. And at Lee’s suggestion none of the 26 participants wore name tags on their suits, because they all know each other well.

The previous practice of having the president be the main speaker while the tycoons sit back and listen was altered, too; during the two-hour conversation, Lee exchanged short greetings with the business leaders while they took turns speaking for the rest of the time. This new type of meeting deserves praise, as it eschews the formalities reminiscent of authoritarianism.

Still, more improvements would be welcome. Such a get-together becomes more meaningful only when participants can talk freely with the president. But the Monday meeting still followed the usual convention of having each chairman “report” on his investment and employment plans for the new year and on how he will pursue co-prosperity with small and medium businesses.

One of Lee’s remarks, however, is a signal of trouble ahead. Answering the tycoons’ requests, Lee promised to “push ahead with a plan to allow companies to set up their research and development centers in Seoul and metropolitan areas. If you build your R&D center in the capital area, it will help lure highly-qualified talent away from provincial areas,” he said.

Business leaders have long dreamed of establishing R&D centers in the area. So they delivered their prayer to the president and received a welcome reply. As a result, a strong candidate site for their R&D centers is already obvious: the site of the government complex in Gwacheon, which will likely be emptied out when the existing governmental offices move to Sejong City, South Chungcheong.

Business leaders previously had trouble with setting up R&D centers in the capital area because it is either prohibited for environmental reasons or the available property was owned by the government. But if they try to move their R&D centers, which are currently located in the provinces, provincial government resistance appears unavoidable.

The fact that Lee listens carefully to what business leaders say and answers their requests positively should no doubt be welcomed. But he should not do it arbitrarily as if handing out presents. If a problem is to be solved, it should be done with appropriate procedures.

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