Lay off our companiesThe U.S. Embassy in Seoul asked some serious questions to South Korea’s conglomerates whose heads accompanied President Moon Jae-in on his recent trip to North Korea for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in September. The embassy asked them about what is going on in their inter-Korean projects. That is the embassy’s supposed reason for the telephone calls.
On the receiving end, however, it is a different story. The companies might have received the call as if it was meant to deliver a warning on behalf of the Trump administration that they also can be the targets of a secondary boycott if they violate the U.S.-imposed sanctions on North Korea.
We can hardly understand why the U.S. Embassy, a representative of the U.S. government, made the phone calls to private companies in South Korea. If the United States needs some cooperation with South Korea on a specific issue, it can contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But at the same time, we believe that the U.S. Embassy apparently had some reason for engaging in such actions because there is the strong likelihood that it wanted to directly deliver a message to the companies out of concerns that the message cannot be successfully delivered to the Moon Jae-in administration.
The distress of our large companies does not end there. In a dinner with heads of South Korean conglomerates in Pyongyang last month, Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, rebuked them for not trying harder to help develop the North Korean economy. “Can you swallow cold noodles well under such circumstances?” he asked sarcastically. At that moment, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, Ri’s counterpart, tried to comfort them by telling them that North Korea seemed to desire the acceleration of inter-Korean exchanges.
But Ri’s comment constitutes a case of discourtesy to his prestigious guests from South Korea. The episode shows the unprecedented squeezing of our corporate leaders between a government hoping for more inter-Korean exchanges and the United States that wants tightened sanctions until it achieves denuclearization.
Our government must take responsibility for pushing our business leaders into a corner. If they had not accompanied Moon, they could have avoided such embarrassment. In an ever-tougher economic environment, the government must not interfere in the private sector and dictate what it must do. It must let companies do business according to their needs.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 31, Page 30