Counting on new economy chiefChoi Kyung-hwan, a three-term lawmaker and nominee for the double post of deputy prime minister for the economy and minister of strategy and finance, is among a few political bigwigs who can get President Park Geun-hye on the phone when he makes a call.
Choi passed the civil service exam but quit the government to study. He was courted into politics while an editorial writer at the Korea Economic Daily. He served as the minister of knowledge economy under former President Lee Myung-bak. He boasts a versatile background - civil service, journalism, lawmaking and cabinet minister. He may have greater command over the economic system than his predecessor, Hyun Oh-seok, who mostly came across as indecisive and passive. Current economic conditions demand strong leadership.
His predecessor leaves a pile of work on the economic agenda that must immediately be dealt with. President Park’s first economic team spent more than a year deciding between economic growth or equality. It finally drew up a three-year economic outline earlier this year, but it was put on hold due to the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry, which has preoccupied the government for the last two months.
The economy, which livened up earlier this year, began to sink under negligence. The Korea Development Institute downgraded this year’s growth forecast by 0.2 percentage points. Exports cannot be relied upon to sustain the economy given the sharp appreciation of the Korean won. When excluding Samsung Group, the country’s 30 largest conglomerates’ capital investment fell in the first half compared with a year ago. The growth in hiring in May was the slowest in 10 months. The economy may not be able to shake off its low-growth pace this year.
The new economic team must exercise leadership to combat these challenges and difficulties. The new head of economy, who was the ruling party’s floor leader, is best qualified to persuade his legislative peers to cooperate in passing economy-related bills. Bipartisan support for government policies could generate market confidence.
The government must communicate better to revive domestic demand and corporate investment. Choi has been outspoken about the merits of growth. But despite his connections, Choi must not be domineering. A government is best remembered for its economic accomplishments. The new deputy prime minister should remember that the evaluation of the Park Geun-hye administration hinges on the performance of his economic team.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 16, Page 34