Curbing virus a presidential priorityPresident Park Geun-hye has put off her trip to the United States as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) shows no signs of abating here. Kim Sung-woo, the senior presidential spokesman, said Park delayed her visit to concentrate on combating the outbreak and respond to public needs. The trip, he added, would be rescheduled at the earliest date possible.
Although various agenda items hinged on the summit, we respect the president’s choice to place public health first. The government believes this week could be when the virus peaks. New patients continue to rise, pushing confirmed cases to more than 100 in just three weeks since the first patient was reported. The president could not have left the country at a time like this - she would have been criticized for shirking her responsibilities at home.
There have been cases when presidential talks have been rescheduled due to emergencies. U.S. President Barack Obama put off a trip to Asia in 2013 when the federal government shut down following a political standoff with Congress over raising the debt ceiling.
Still, Park’s cancellation could send the mistaken message that the MERS crisis has gotten that serious. In combating the outbreak, it makes no difference whether the president is here or if the central control system is reliable. The president and government would not have had to worry about public sentiment if it had dealt with the epidemic properly in the early stages. What is done is done.
Now that the president has put off her state visit, she must do all she can to command and combat the outbreak. At the same time, the Foreign Ministry’s team should re-examine the agenda and meticulously prepare for the next summit now that it has been given more time. Korea’s upcoming summit with the United States should not end in formalities, but produce a constructive outcome to address the escalating threat from North Korea and security issues on the peninsula.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 30