Don’t call it beggingDeputy Prime Minister for the Economy Kim Dong-yeon paid a visit to Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor campus in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and toured the site under the guidance of Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Monday. Samsung was the fifth corporate campus, after LG, Hyundai Motor, SK, and Shinsegae, that Kim has visited since he was put in charge of economic affairs by President Moon Jae-in in June last year. Kim talked about Samsung’s role in leading the way for future growth, setting an example of balanced growth with its supply chain, and gaining trust from people and investors at home and abroad. He did not mention investment and hiring with the other heads of large companies.
Kim’s visit to Samsung came after a press report cited an unnamed Blue House official as saying that it was undesirable for the government to “beg for” investment and hiring from a chaebol. In a rare personal statement, Kim said he met with the CEOs of four large companies but never interfered in their investment and hiring plans. He added that calling this “begging” would not help the state agenda of promoting innovation and jobs.
The Blue House denied that it warned against “begging” for investment. But the fiasco only cemented the belief there is general antagonism being done by presidential staff towards chaebol, in line with their anti-business and pro-labor policies.
A meeting between a top economic official and a CEO of a large company can only make the news in Korea. All governments beseech large companies for investment and hiring. Korea’s liberal governments under Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun also sought corporate investment. U.S. President Donald Trump publicly says he will squeeze out more investment and hiring from American enterprises as well as foreign names. No one calls this “begging.”
After meeting with Samsung’s Lee while attending the opening ceremony of a smartphone factory in India, Moon asked Samsung to invest more at home. But it is more important to make Korea’s business environment favorable for companies. They will invest out of their own will, regardless of what the government says, if there is money to be made. The president said in a secretariat meeting that the economy would gain vitality when business picks up and the incomes of working class go up. To fulfill the presidential order, the authorities must not consider deregulation as something only beneficial to large companies.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 7, Page 30