The people want action, not words
In her New Year’s press conference, President Park Geun-hye mentioned the “economy” 42 times. And that figure goes up to 51 when including the “creative economy.”
For reference, that word was the most used in her opening speech, apart from “people” - used both as a noun and an adjective - which she said 39 times.
When counting economy-related words like growth (16 mentions), reform (13), innovation (11), deregulation (11) and future (10), the president devoted the lion’s share of her 25-minute opening speech to the economy. More than half of the 90-minute press conference, including the question-and-answer session, was spent on economic issues. Her New Year’s address was more or less centered on the theme of the economy.
When one of the last reporters asked what kind of president she wished to be remembered as, Park said she aspired to revive the economy so that it could continue to grow over the next 30 years as the result of her three-year economic innovation plan. From what she says, economic revival is obviously her utmost priority.
The problem is that the public was not impressed nor convinced. They understand that the president has put great emphasis on the economy but aren’t confident that her enthusiasm alone can bring about a recovery.
In fact, they were more interested in her thoughts on the scandal involving her aides and how she plans to change her governing style and staff. She may have had a lot to say about the economy, but ultimately failed to deliver what the people wanted to hear.
First of all, most of what she said, we already knew. President Park reiterated her three-year outline to innovate the economy and promised that, if these plans are carried out, the economy would be on a solid path for growth. This outline was announced a year ago, however, and yet little progress has been made since. No matter how she glosses it, she cannot convince the public if there are no results.
What she said about the economy is not wrong. Both revival and reform are important, but it has been said so many times before. The government made it clear when it unveiled its economic policy plans for 2015. Public interest does not grow nor does the economic outlook improve just because the president rephrased her plan in a different way. The economy does not move on words.
Public response would not have been so lackluster if the president shared even one or two insightful policy solutions and went into detail. Instead of elaborating on the need to boost the economy, she should have laid out specific means for which she would back up her determination.
Additionally, the press questions whether the government had any plans to lift the ban on industrial activities around the capital - the key stumbling block to investment by large companies - and that was her chance to grab the people’s attention. But she wasted it with textbook-like answers.
“Easing the regulations related to investment around the capital area is one of the bulky themes on deregulation,” she said. “We will hear opinions from a land-policy perspective and try to come up with a reasonable solution within the year.”
The fact that she had the will to address much-tabooed regulations is great news. It’s just a pity she did not prepare and build up on that theme.
The regulations barring corporate and industrial activities around the capital in the name of evening out developments across the nation have been a bottleneck for capital investment for the past 33 years. Preventing companies from manufacturing activities around the capital has not brought about development in other regions. Still, none of the past governments was able to crack the issue for fear of angering voters in other areas.
If she had a mind to ease regulations, she should have made that plan a key aspect in her New Year’s press conference as a signature campaign on economic recovery. If she had elaborated what effect the move could have brought and how she planned to use it to revive the economy, her words on commitment to the economy could have gained more weight.
The fact that the media mostly centered on her brief answers on the question underscores her interest in the possibility of easing regulations. It could have been what the people really wanted to hear.
But the conference is over. Words are of no use now. The president could make amends by taking action, however. Easing regulations on investment in the capital area could be the tipping point.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 14, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo