Actions express priorities
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
I noticed one picture. After North Korea launched two ballistic missiles six days and then two days before Japan decided to exclude Korea from the so-called white list, President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Jeo Island in South Gyeongsang on July 30 was covering the front pages of major newspapers on July 31. Photos from the visit were also posted on the Blue House website. Only three days ago, the Blue House announced that President Moon cancelled his summer vacation because of the ongoing Japan issue.
But despite the announcement, photos of President Moon making an unofficial visit to Jeju Island during the previous weekend for personal reasons spread on social media, and after cancelling his vacation, President Moon visited Jeo Island with South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Gyeong-su. The photos in the newspapers for two consecutive days didn’t reflect a sense of crisis.
It would be nice if reality resembled the photos, but that is not the case. With the U.S.-China trade conflict and Japan’s provocation, IT and semiconductor industries are in a slump, and many people are reminded of the nightmare from the late Joseon period when the Russian military jet violated the territorial airspace, and dozens of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Russian fighters flew over Dokdo islets.
During this administration, small businesses have struggled, actual youth unemployment is higher than ever, and now the Korea Employment Information Service predicts that jobs in 10 industries, including major manufacturing, could decrease by the largest margin ever in the second half of the year.
Aside from the two photos, I find it hard to detect the crisis from the public schedule of the president. After cancelling his vacation to respond to the crisis, President Moon did not preside over the emergency National Security Council (NSC) meeting on July 31 regarding North Korea’s missile launch despite pressure from the opposition party. The president cannot and should not be involved in every single issue, but some people find the latest moves odd because the president’s public schedule sends a political message.
It’s been like that since Japan’s announcement of a core material export ban turned the country upside down on July 1. The public events and remarks by the president with Blue House correspondents haven’t reflected how the people are feeling. As I wondered whether we have any weapon or plan, the cabinet meeting on July 2 evaluated the North Korea-U.S. meeting at Panmunjom as a “declaration of ending the hostile relationship” and remained silent on the Japan issue.
On the same day, the president attended a conference about the outcomes of health care coverage enhancement. On July 5, he visited a social economy expo and observed children’s art class.
On July 8, he said that Korea cannot help but respond if Korean companies suffer damage. But the very next day, the president hosted a self-praising fair economy outcome report meeting.
On July 10, the heads of the nation’s top 30 companies were called to the Blue House in response to a prolonged war, but realistic strategies were hard to find. On July 12, the president visited the South Jeolla Provincial Office and talked about Admiral Yi Sun-shin defending the country with 12 ships.
Following the remark, then-Blue House Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk advocated for raising bamboo spears against the Japanese and called critical media, “Native Japanese invaders selling out the country and benefitting the enemy,” advocating for anti-Japanese sentiment by defining them as “the new Japanese collaborators.”
There have been some remarks about Japan during secretarial and aide meetings, but the president personally appeared at the Geobukseon restaurant in Busan, the name of which is derived from the Korean word for turtle ship, where signs of the alienation of public sentiment were evident before the general election.
Some found the luncheon meeting with the Minjoo Party floor leaders on July 23 uncomfortable. The Blue House and key ruling party members got together and shared jokes, like “I was jealous as my wife told me to tell the president she loved him,” without realizing how Korean citizens feel during the ongoing national crisis.
That’s why many people believe the Blue House and the ruling party are only focused on the general election, and that was before a report by the Institute for Democracy — the Democratic Party think tank led by Yang Jeong-cheol, who had been called the mind of President Moon — said that the Korea-Japan discord would help the party in the general election.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 2, Page 24