The clock is ticking

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The clock is ticking


Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

In a month and a half, it will be two years and six months since President Moon Jae-in took office. The administration was created based on the people’s candlelight protests, wishing to make a country that is worthy of its name. The government will face the halfway-point of its term. Has our country become worthy of its name? If not, is it moving toward that direction?

As well as a journalist, I am also a citizen of this country. I participated in the candlelight vigils and wished the best for this government’s success. I sometimes criticized the Moon administration in my columns, but that was for the sake of this government’s success, not to oppose it for opposition’s sake. I know that transforming a country is not an easy job as it takes time, so I believed we will see changes someday. But my hopes have reached their limits. I feel extremely scared that our country may collapse somehow — instead of becoming a country that is worthy of its name.

As the Republic of Korea is a democracy, its people have sovereignty over the country. In his inaugural speech, Moon promised to become a “president of all the people.”

“Because every single one of the people who did not vote for me is also one of my people, I will also serve them,” Moon said.

And yet, he seemed to be determined to serve only his supporters — about 35 to 40 percent of the people. Otherwise, it is hard to explain Moon’s unreasonable obsession to appoint Cho Kuk, his controversial former senior secretary for civil affairs, as justice minister.

Cho may not have committed any crimes, but he has already lost his qualification to serve in the post of justice minister in terms of ethics. He used to pretend that he was a progressive academic who spoke for all the justice and fairness of the world, but his words and actions were complete opposites.

It is hard to expect that a justice minister who had lost his ethical authority will accomplish persecutory reform. Is Moon ignoring public opinion and pushing for the appointment as he thinks he will become a “lame duck” president if he gives up on his choice? How can you explain this unless you call it high-handedness and arrogance?

It is unfortunate that Moon appears to have no aides who are willing to offer honest and bitter advice. It is his fault that he does not have such an aide. How is this administration different from the previous one, in which officials could not challenge the president because they were scared of her anger? My expectations toward Moon were all wrong.

Domestic affairs are sensitive, but we need to be especially careful about foreign affairs. But Moon’s approach to Japan seems like reckless driving by an enraged driver.

Many expected the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) between Korea and Japan to be kept for the sake of national security, despite the two countries’ conflict over the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on the forced labor issue. But Moon ended the agreement without a second thought.

It is shocking that he can make such a bold decision on a sensitive issue directly linked to the Korea-U.S. alliance and also the security order of Northeast Asia — as if he is flipping a coin. It is no wonder that the public became skeptical that he was trying to divert criticism for Cho’s nomination and take advantage of the anti-Japan nationalist sentiment ahead of next year’s general election.

Moon’s North Korea policy seems to be aimed at pleasing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump to help them reach an agreement on the denuclearization of North Korea. Kim, now an equal partner of Trump, is insulting Moon with severe, cruel words as soon as he secured the strategic high ground in Northeast Asia through various missile tests. And yet, Moon cannot complain. No matter how often North Korea fires short-range missiles, Trump says he does not care because it doesn’t concern the United States. He now demands an astronomical amount of money in defense costs for the U.S. Forces Korea. We wonder whose friend he really is.
What about our economy? Korea’s growth rate is falling day after day, while exports and domestic consumption are plummeting.

Waiting for the outcome of the Moon administration’s so-called “income-led growth” is just like waiting for Godot. Despite enormous fiscal spending, quality jobs are not being created while the income gap between classes is widening. Because the government is pouring tax money into unproductive projects, the people’s burdens are skyrocketing.

When you are in a crisis, you must choose a straightforward resolution to overcome it. Moon must immediately withdraw Cho’s nomination. His pride may be hurt, but he must approach Japan to resume talks. If Korea-Japan relations deteriorate further, Korean companies’ damages will snowball and the Korea-U.S. alliance will be shaken.

Moon must give up his unilateral expectations for North Korea and express a strong determination to go nuclear for self-defense if North Korea does not give up nuclear weapons. While valuing the Korea-U.S. alliance, Moon must also confront improper demands from Uncle Sam. That will allow Korea to survive in the rivalry between China and the United States.

If the current situation continues, Korea may see yet another round of candlelight protests. Those in their 20s and 30s who are disappointed at the appointment of Cho are already showing signs.

There is no way for Moon to escape this situation. He must wake up from his dream, face reality and go back to his initial promise to make a country that is worthy of its name.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 35
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