New finance minister hints at some changes

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New finance minister hints at some changes

New Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki hinted at changes to President Moon Jae-in’s core economic focus on society’s most vulnerable, vowing Wednesday that he’d try to “supplement” some policies “without hesitation.”

Hong, who was appointed on Monday amid gloomy economic prospects, didn’t specify which policies in Moon's vision for creating an "embracing nation" he had in mind for readjusting. But local media speculated he was referring to Moon’s income-led growth drive, which aims to boost the domestic economy by raising wages of low-income workers and creating jobs in the public sector.

A day earlier, at his first press conference as finance minister and deputy prime minister for the economy, Hong said now was the time to “accurately diagnose” various matters pertaining to the income-led growth policy and find solutions for problems.

Hong's latest remarks yesterday on supplementation was mentioned in an opening speech he gave at a three-way meeting among high-level officials from the Blue House, the government and the ruling Democratic Party, in which they discussed the economy, next year’s budget and Moon’s overall statecraft, as well as major current affairs, such as recent security hazards.

Based on ideas from the discussion, the government plans to announce a report on Korea’s economic policy outlook for 2019 early next week.

All three sides agreed to spend 70 percent of next year’s budget in the first six months to resuscitate the economy, especially on projects related to job-creation and social overhead capital. They also vowed to pin down the causes for a fire at a KT switching center in central Seoul in late November, a fatal pipe-bursting accident in Goyang, Gyeonggi, earlier this month and a KTX bullet train that derailed in Gangwon over the past weekend, and come up with preventative measures for each situation.

Shortly after the trilateral meeting on Wednesday, Hong met Moon to offer his first report on the economy. Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom offered scant details of the discussion but said it lasted for 100 minutes, way longer than the single hour Moon had initially set aside.

According to Kim, Hong asked that he meet the president once every two weeks, up from once every month, to offer his insights on the economy, which Moon accepted. Moon was said to have added they could inform the public of Hong’s biweekly report if necessary.

On Hong’s suggestion that he creates a “coordination group” of economy-related ministers and Blue House senior secretaries, Moon ordered the finance minister to make sure they “share lively discussions” and run the group with transparency.

Asked whether Hong and Moon discussed the minimum wage, which local reports have blamed for the loss of countless jobs, Cha Young-hwan, Blue House secretary for economic policy, said Wednesday during a press briefing that they discussed overall policy matters for next year “including that,” adding they agreed to talk further on the issue with the government, Blue House and the Democratic Party.

Next Monday, Moon will preside over a major economic meeting mostly participated in by cabinet members related to the economy.

Moon’s possible shift on the economy comes as its poor performance has taken a toll on his approval ratings.

The Blue House chief’s popularity plummeted to an all-time low of 48.4 percent in late November before slightly rebounding to 49.5 percent last week in the latest Realmeter weekly poll. The figures are a far cry from Moon’s all-time high of 84.1 percent in the fourth week of May 2017, shortly after he became president in a snap election that replaced Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and removed.

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