Tried in the court of history
The author is the editor-in-chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The United States’ view toward President Moon Jae-in is worrisome. Recently, a White House aide asked journalists if they knew about a protest in Korea demanding his impeachment. U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris said Moon is surrounded by pro-North leftists, after the Moon administration decided on Aug. 22 to not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan. Although the decision was conditionally postponed last month, it was revealed that the Blue House had lied about the “U.S. understanding” its decision.
The controversy surrounding Gsomia has become prey to U.S. President Donald Trump, who is demanding a fivefold increase in the defense cost sharing and considering a withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. According to Victor Cha, senior advisor and Korea chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Trump has said 114 times over the 30 years that there is no need to keep U.S. forces in Korea. After his North-U.S. summit in Singapore last year, he straightforwardly made the comment that he wants to withdraw the troops “someday.” It was an extremely dangerous decision to use the Gsomia option in front of Trump.
Korea faces suspicions that it tried to end Gsomia to assist China and North Korea. Actually, the North’s Rodong Shinmun criticized the military pact as the agreement of a traitor. The Moon administration had agreed with China that it would not join the U.S.-led missile defense system, that it will not allow any additional deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system and that it will not form a trilateral military alliance with the United States and Japan. The plan to terminate Gsomia was enough to raise suspicions that Korea was abandoning security cooperation with the United States and Japan.
North Korea fired artillery along the Northern Limit Line of the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23, intentionally violating the Sept. 19, 2018 inter-Korean military agreement. Five days later, it fired projectiles from its super-large multiple rocket launcher system. The United States, then, flew a reconnaissance plane over the Korean Peninsula, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted the National Security Council meeting. South Korea, which should have felt the deepest sense of crisis, only expressed regret. This is a problem.
If North-U.S. relations improve, Trump may change his Northeast Asia security strategy by reinforcing U.S. troops in Japan to check China. In order to accomplish the North’s denuclearization, he may give an attractive gift to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). Moon said the USFK has nothing to do with denuclearization and it is a matter that Seoul and Washington will decide. Moon wants to keep the troops. Then, he should have managed the situation more prudently, but it was extremely thoughtless for his administration to threaten to terminate Gsomia. Does the government really think we can defend our national security without the USFK against a nuclear-armed North Korea? Do we really have that capability?
Improving Korea-Japan relations, worsened by the compensation issue of the forced labor victims, is another tough challenge. Despite resistance from his supporters, Abe struck a deal with President Park Geun-hye in 2015 to settle the comfort women issue. After the Moon administration unilaterally broke the agreement, Abe criticized that Korea changes the goalposts whenever a new administration takes power. Officials from the Park administration advised the Moon administration that it could criticize the predecessor — if there are problems in the comfort women deal — but the agreement must be kept. The advice, however, was rejected. Since then, Seoul and Tokyo are confronting almost all issues. When an administration is too rigid, the people suffer.
Although Korea’s foreign affairs are in a mire, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has no presence. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reportedly called her a “decoration.” That is why Vice Foreign Minister Cho Se-young led the negotiation to renew Gsomia. How can a country’s foreign affairs be destroyed this badly?
The Moon administration’s incompetence is also confirmed in all areas of internal affairs. The brutal failures of the income-led growth policy, a rapid minimum wage hike, unreasonable introduction of the 52-hour workweek and failure of deregulation have all destroyed our economic growth engine. The Bank of Korea said last year that this year’s growth rate would be 2.9 percent, but it was revised to 2.0 percent this year. Although Moon said the real estate market is being stabilized, housing prices are actually skyrocketing. It is no wonder that the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice asked who really is offering deceptive reports to the president.
Over the past two and a half years, the Moon administration failed to produce a single accomplishment. If this continues, it will be remembered as the most incompetent government in history. As the failure of an administration leads to the pains of the people, the Moon administration must change completely during the second half of his five-year term. The president must listen to the ever-worsening public sentiment.
Although Yoo Jae-soo had a history of being investigated for having received bribes, he was able to sit in key posts such as the Financial Policy Bureau Director of the Financial Services Commission, a senior advisor to the ruling Democratic Party and vice mayor of Busan. It was possible because he was extremely close to Moon and powerful ally Lee Ho-cheol. Such a corrupt official must be expelled.
Moon must establish a new cabinet. The new prime minister and ministers should be welcomed by the market and recognized by the international community. He must hire talented people from previous administrations and from the conservative arena. Yasuhiro Nakasone, former prime minister of Japan who died last week, said a politician is tried in the court of history. No matter how much power you have now, it will perish as time goes by.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 2, Page 35