Focus of rivals’ election strategies differ
Moon visited Gunsan, North Jeolla, on Thursday and attended a signing ceremony for a job creation agreement in a new electric car complex in the city. The industrial project was launched to restore the local economy, hit by the closure of a General Motors (GM) plant last year.
The event was held in a former GM plant, now used as an electric car factory by MS Group. Moon said 412.2 billion won ($351.7 million) will be invested in the project and 1,900 people will be newly hired by 2022.
“Gunsan will emerge strong as the mecca of electric vehicles powered by the region’s determination to nurture new industries, and cooperation between labor, management, civil society and government, and government support,” Moon said in the ceremony.
Moon’s visit to the southern city marks the sixth time he has participated in an economic event this month alone and his third visit to a region outside Seoul this year. He visited a Samsung display factory in Asan, South Chungcheong, on Oct. 10 and a Hyundai Motor facility in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, five days later.
Moon is increasingly hosting or attending economic events. Since April, one year before next year’s general election, he hosted or participated in 33 economic events - or at least one or more a week.
The scope of the economic events was also wide. When he visited Songdo, Incheon, in April, he announced a strategy to innovate Korea’s tourism industry.
Later that month, he announced a peace economy vision in Goseong, Gangwon. In May, he vowed to support development of bio and health industries during his visit to Osong, North Chungcheong.
He visited a hydrogen fueling station in Changwon, South Gyeongsang in June and hosted a meeting with mayors and governors in Busan in July. A job creation ceremony was held in Gumi, North Gyeongsang in July and a visit to Hyundai Mobis factory in Ulsan followed in August.
He also visited Muan of South Jeolla in July and Jeonju of North Jeolla in August to announce regional economic visions.
Since taking office in May 2017, Moon has visited areas outside Seoul to attend economic activities, but the trips became more frequent after the country was hit with an economic crisis due to Japan’s export restrictions in July. In July, Moon had six economic tours and seven such tours in August.
The cities he has visited all coincide with strategic districts for the ruling Democratic Party. It appeared that the president and the ruling party want to concentrate on such areas as their approval ratings plummeted in recent months, particularly since the political turmoil caused by Moon’s appointment of Cho Kuk as justice mister and the scandal-ridden Cho’s subsequent resignation following the prosecution’s probe into his family and a barrage of media reports alleging their corruptions.
A presidential aide said the idea was to promote the Moon administration’s efforts for economic recovery. “If you compare us to the Lee Myung-bak administration, known for its pro-business image, we are making far more economic activities,” he told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Many say the Moon government is anti-corporate, but that is entirely not true. We are actually business-friendly.”
The Blue House also insists that the country is doing well, despite various warning signs in economic indexes. Due to global economic slowdowns, the average price of an 8-gigabit DDR4 DRAM, a benchmark price for the category, plummeted to $2.94 from the average of $8.2 last year, a Blue House official noted, adding that semiconductors comprise 20 percent of Korea’s exports. And yet, the country managed to maintain over $30,000 gross national income per capita, he said.
He also stressed that Korea’s economic growth is the second highest after the United States among the seven countries in the so-called 30-50 club, or those with per capita gross national income surpassing $30,000 and a population of over 50 million.
Experts, however, say the policies must change, instead of Moon’s frequent participation in economic events. “The government is spending state budgets to create jobs for people in the over-sixties age group, but how much longer will it last?” said Kang Sung-jin, professor of economics at Korea University. “Actually, the government is preparing many bills that will actually strengthen regulations.”
Sung Tae-yoon, an economics professor of Yonsei University, also expressed concerns. “The growth rate was 3.2 percent in 2017, but it dropped over 1.2 percentage-points over the past two years,” he said. “That means nearly a 40-percent plunge. This is a serious crisis.”
In contrast to Moon, Chairman Hwang of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is concentrating his activities on political events.
On Thursday, Hwang took a helicopter to a military post on the northeastern island of Maldo in Ganghwa, Incheon. The island is in close proximity to Hambak Island, the location of a recent territorial dispute between the two Koreas.
The visit also followed Hwang’s announcement of the LKP’s conservative vision on foreign affairs and national security earlier in the morning.
After receiving a report from a military official, Hwang said that the North has violated the inter-Korean military agreement by placing military installations on Hambak Island. “It is necessary for the South to demand the North to remove the facilities, but the Moon administration is doing nothing,” Hwang said.
Hwang’s visit to the military unit took place after military tensions between the two Koreas escalated. During a parliamentary audit session earlier this month, South Korean Marine Corps Commandant Lee Seung-do told lawmakers that “We have a plan to use the 2nd Marine Division’s firepower to level the island in the event of a war” to counter the North’s radar facilities on Hambak Island.
In response, North Korea issued a threatening rhetoric, saying the South must not forget the “Yeonpyeong Island shelling” in 2010.
“Moon’s North Korea policy is practically dead,” said an LKP official. “The people need a new model of an opposition party.”
Hwang started his political activity in August. After completing a national tour in May, he has refrained from making public appearances, but Moon’s nomination of Cho as the justice minister in August triggered him to lead propaganda events.
After hosting a massive anti-Moon administration protest in Gwanghwamun on Aug. 24, he hosted a total of 13 rallies. Most of them took place in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, but he also visited Busan, Daegu and other cities to host the demonstrations.
As youngsters who had endorsed the Moon administration for its pledge of “fairness” withdrew their support, Hwang also tried to communicate with them to expand the party’s traditional support basis of older voters.
Last month, he hosted a meeting with a group of voters in their 20s at the National Assembly. Young YouTube content creators were also invited to the LKP headquarters.
Earlier this month, Hwang visited Seoul Federation of Teachers’ Associations and Pukyong National University in Busan in two separate events to connect with younger voters.
BY Kim JUN-YOUNG, WI MOON-HEE [email@example.com]