Moon’s three ‘tumors’On May 25, President Moon Jae-in introduced three guidelines for secretariat meetings while chairing his first. He underscored that no meetings would be held with a preset conclusion; anyone would be free to express opinions regardless of their rank; and there wouldn’t be top-down orders from then on. “It is the duty of the senior secretaries and aides to speak their minds,” he said.
A senior lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who attended a recent event at the Blue House observed that Moon was not the person he knew as a legislator. “He had such charisma that no one dared talk back at him,” he said. The president enjoys an approval rating of 70 percent entirely due to his own persona rather than his government’s performance.
His administration seems to have no rival in the opposition camp thanks to its catastrophic collapse after the ouster of President Park Geun-hye in March. But an enemy can come from within. The Moon administration is already showing symptoms of developing malignant tumors.
Its first tumor is the so-called J-nomics economic policy. It gets its name from Moon’s given name, Jae-in. It aims for income-led growth by increasing minimum wages and making contract jobs permanent. The policy is, in fact, a double-edged sword. Employers can pass along increased labor costs onto consumers. Suppliers may move their manufacturing base out of the country altogether. That would not be good for self-employed and mid- or small-sized enterprises. They can hardly afford new hires because labor costs have gone up. A policy designed to help the weak boomerangs on those intended beneficiaries.
J-nomics will likely worsen youth unemployment. People born from 1991 to 1996 are all in their 20s. The age group of 20- to 29-year-olds will increase by 390,000 by 2021. This is why the jobless rate for people in their 20s has shot up despite a decrease in overall unemployment. The government can’t achieve its employment goals by the time the president’s tenure ends in 2022. If expectations are high, disappointment will be equally great. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party is less fretful as it anticipates the liberal administration could face its downfall if it loses the support of 6 million self-employed and jobless young voters.
The second tumor is Moon’s anti-American self-defense policy. The hard-liners in the Moon administration have two areas of blind faith. First, they believe that North Korea will use its nuclear and missile program as a negotiating card, and second, they believe that the United States would never pull its troops from South Korea. The first is based on the naivety of former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who believed that Pyongyang is developing nuclear weapons entirely for self-defense and will never use them against South Korea or other countries.
The second leap of faith also originates in the days when Roh was kind of proud to defy Washington. The hard-liners are devoted to Roh’s legacy. This may explain the administration’s pro-North Korea and anti-U.S. sentiments. The faction championing national sovereignty is engrossed in bringing Chinese and North Korean officials to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and arranging an inter-Korean summit. Their naivety was mocked by Pyongyang and ignored by Beijing. As a result, it has damaged our relationship with our traditional security allies — Washington and Tokyo. The public has begun to harbor doubts about the government’s diplomatic skills.
The third tumor is the bigoted nature of Moon’s inner circle. They worship their boss. A presidential spokesperson said he could feel sadness in the breath of the president after the news broke of the blaze in Jecheon that killed 29. His national security adviser also explained that the president chose to dine alone in a local restaurant during his visit to China instead of with senior Chinese government officials because of his humble wish to mingle with the Chinese people. They cheerlead about everything regardless of how the rest of the society perceives their behavior.
Their devotion to the president has gone to an extreme. One expert on germs was bombarded with cyberattacks after he criticized Moon’s zealous supporters. DP floor leader Woo Sang-ho said the ruling party dare not speak of an alliance with the People’s Party in fear of a backlash from its supporters. An Hee-jung, a popular ruling party governor of South Chungcheong province, almost staked his political life on advising the ruling power not to turn away from opposing views.
No government can be entirely free from malignant temptations. It must try its best to manage them through lively debate. All the talk of being open-minded and cooperative during the election campaign is hard to find reflected in the ways of this government. Instead, they malign past governments. If Moon does not correct himself and go back to his first promises, he could fall victim to the malignant diseases that brought low his predecessors.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 35
*The author is senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.