Command performances

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Command performances

The chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, Kim Sang-jo, had a policy briefing with chief executives of five major business groups in Korea on Thursday. That’s their second get-together following an earlier one in June. In the first meeting, the head of the government’s watchdog on markets said he would wait for voluntary changes in their business practices with patience. But not too much: He said there was not much time left.

That was a dual message for corporate leaders. The government would give large companies the time needed to reform themselves on their own, but he would not wait indefinitely. In a press interview later, he defined the end of December as a “first deadline for my patience.”

Kim sent the same message to the business leaders yesterday. He said that he had no intention of pressing ahead with half-baked reforms of the corporate sector in the face of the strong criticism that the new government’s aggressive reform drive has lost steam due to big companies’ unwillingness to cooperate.

He also announced a plan to look into potential malpractices of all public foundations owned by conglomerates and the current status of their holding companies. “You have nothing to worry about if you follow the law and seek co-prosperity with your contractors,” he added.

Despite his reassurances, business leaders were uncomfortable. They have been distressed by the ongoing trials of their bosses over possible involvement in the Choi Soon-sil scandal and by China’s retaliation for the government’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield. That’s not all. They have to cope with a government-led minimum wage increase and corporate tax hike, not to mention mounting pressure from the liberal administration to put more contract workers on the permanent payroll.

When local companies confront tough challenges at home, how can they compete with their competitors on the global stage? The scene of our corporate leaders writing down what the chairman told them in the meeting was quite embarrassing. They are frequently asked to participate in meetings presided over by the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy and Minister of Science and ICT.

We don’t find fault with ministers inviting business leaders to talk. That should deepen understanding among them all. The problem is that a head of a bureau or division in a government ministry can do that job by meeting mid-level workers from companies. We hope Kim changes his mind before any next meeting, given his preference for informality and practicality.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 3, Page 38
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