Deciphering the president

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Deciphering the president

President Park Geun-hye is known for her reserve but she recently invited politicians to the Blue House day after day after day, as if she was performing an onerous chore. The series of presidential luncheons and dinners softened her somewhat stubborn image. After the Democratic United Party leadership joined her, they unanimously proclaimed that Park is the right person to be a president. Despite criticism from various quarters, Park still went ahead and appointed Yoon Jin-sook as her maritime minister, and her confidence probably came out of that endorsement. At least, her efforts to communicate were approved and appreciated.

Perhaps because of her self-confidence, Park managed to make a joke when Saenuri Party lawmakers told her on Friday that there is still a feeling that she is hard to communicate with. When a lawmaker said, “I was told that presidential aides feel it very hard to approach the president,” Park replied, “That’s a groundless rumor.” It felt a bit like she was defending her own earnest efforts to communicate.

Obviously, she still has room for improvement. Although Park made obvious efforts to reach others, there will always be a politician or two who brags that he merely went to the Blue House to enjoy a meal. Others claim that a politician critical of the president could not actually give her advice when he visited the Blue House. Of course, that’s the fault of the politician for failing to speak his mind when given the opportunity. It’s not something Park should take responsibility for. But it is still up to her to create an atmosphere in which critics can feel free to air their views.

Another point involves differences in language. The chaotic handling of the April 11 proposal to the North to start a dialogue was a classic example. At the time, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae announced that normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue must be resolved through talks and the North Korean authorities must come to the table to discuss the issues they want to raise.

When a reporter asked him if Seoul was proposing dialogue with Pyongyang, he denied it. And yet it was a clear proposal for talks and that baffled reporters. Ryoo, however, could not explain why it was not a dialogue proposal.

Reporters then asked Lee Jung-hyun, Park’s senior secretary for political affairs - who is known to understand the president’s mind most deeply - to confirm the issue. Park reportedly told Lee, “If that wasn’t a proposal for dialogue, what was it?” When she met with Saenuri lawmakers for a dinner that evening, Park once again confirmed that she will talk to the North.

After reading the newspapers the next day, however, Park pointed out that her message was not properly delivered. Park reportedly expressed her “female emotions” for the companies and workers who were suffering from the suspended operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. She wanted to talk with the North about the industrial park, but some media reported that her administration proposed talks that could lead to a summit. Though reporters tried to confirm the message, her aides failed to interpret her thoughts.

After the incident, Blue House aides reportedly held a follow-up meeting after a senior secretarial meeting. They tried to find the right answer by presenting their interpretations of Park’s message as if it were a puzzle. Will it be the end of the problem when the presidential senior secretaries finally understand their boss?

Diplomacy and national security issues always involve other parties. It is worrisome if North Korea or other foreign leaders will fail to understand our president’s messages.

North Korea is a top national security issue. It will decide the fate of not only the five years of the Park administration, but of the nation itself. Any garbling of out president’s messages could potentially lead to a crisis. Is the Blue House capable of solving its communication dilemma?

Poor communication is not just a matter for the Blue House. Many people are spending time and energy deciphering the meaning of Park’s words. There are many different - and conflicting - translations of her notion of a “creative economy.” It’s time to set forth the bigger picture and direction of the nation’s economy so public servants can stop wasting their time guessing where the president wants to go.

The president must spend more time with her senior secretaries. The layout of the Blue House, which requires a senior secretary to hop into a car to meet the president, must be changed. Senior secretaries should easily access the presidential office and exchange opinions about matters that may even seem trivial. Instead of the whole country trying to interpret Park’s message, it will be more efficient for the president to communicate better with her own people.

Rather than inviting dozens of people to formal dinners, Park should host small meetings and invite a frank exchange of opinions. Why does she go back to her residence and eat dinner alone? She should invite more guests and listen to diverse opinions from a wide spectrum of people.

*The author is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook
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