No more Mr. Smile

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No more Mr. Smile


Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

What is the big deal over falling from second to fifth in the order of precedence?

Putin and Medvedev easily switched roles between president of Russia to prime minister. How about Japanese treasury minister Taro Aso? The former prime minister happily took a job in Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.

Division of three powers? In the Korean reality where imperial presidential power is mentioned, it is frankly close to an ideal. Look at how the incumbent Speaker of the House acted for the passing of the budget plan. The court may feel uncomfortable as it changes the code for major trials when the administration changes.

Do I sound cynical? I want to say that future moves of nominee Chung are important. It is not the first time that Prime Minister nominee Chung Sye-kyun is keeping a low profile. He had been the head of the ruling party and then served as a minister. Isn’t his belief to actively get involved if there is something he can do noble? Having served as the Speaker of the National Assembly, he must have had his calculation to accept the prime minister’s position. The Blue House also must have various calculations.

The point is whether he would secure a certain independent space as the prime minister. It is not an easy challenge considering the status of the prime minister in Korea’s power structure. “Divided power” and “accountability” had often been fruitless. An economic minister in the Lee Myung-bak administration confessed, “The position of the prime minister was always questionable. I often reported to the Blue House first for urgent and important matters and brought it to the Prime Minister’s Office later.”


Prime minister nominee Chung Sye-kyun, a former National Assembly speaker, answers questions from reporters in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

In the process of confirmation or after inauguration, the first challenge for Chung is likely to be the nuclear power issue. His past moves show that Chung is positive about nuclear power generation. Before the confirmation hearing for minister of industry and resources in 2006, he sent a written report to the National Assembly indicating that nuclear power was a more convincing alternative than other energy sources in terms of stable supply, environmental friendliness and economy. After he was inaugurated as the minister, he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Sinwolseong 1 and 2 reactors and said that nuclear power plants would play an important role in Korea. In November 2006, he wrote that energy resources were short in Korea, and nuclear power was an important alternative for energy security and environmental protection.

Of course, he put a condition that there should be efforts to enhance the social acceptance of nuclear power through safety, economy and environmental verifications. However, he is clear on a different track from the current administration’s tight nuclear phase-out policy. When he was the Speaker of the National Assembly, he met with British and United Arab Emirates officials and asked for contracts with Korea.

The Roh Moo-hyun administration, for which he had served as a minister, is different from the Moon administration at least when it comes to nuclear power. The next-generation APR+ technology development, which is practically abandoned by the current administration, began during the Roh administration. It was also active in designating the site for nuclear waste dump, which past administrations had been reluctant to do. Industry minister Chung helped President Roh to export nuclear power industry. The Lee Myung-bak administration won a contract to export nuclear power plant to the UAE, and Chung, then opposition leader, issued a message calling it a great accomplishment.

No other area reveals the blind ideology of the Moon administration like the nuclear power issue. The energy issue needs to be practically approached, but it fell into a quagmire as it was caught in the anti-nuclear frame of radical environmentalists. Fine dust levels need to be reduced, but expensive iquefied natural gas, which produces far more pollutants than nuclear power, has been imported and burned. When European Union leaders say nuclear power is needed to reduce greenhouse gas, nuclear phase-out has become a stronghold surrounded by supporters who like to mention the “candlelight administration.” So if Chung breaks through this issue, it can highlight his pragmatism and rationality.

Conditions are not bad. President Moon said he was sorry to appoint him. The debt that the president has can be an asset to him. A greater path can open for him by using the asset to open new space as a prime minister of economy. Until then, clashes with Blue House staff or supporters of the current administration may be inevitable. In the process, he may lose his trademark “smile.” But if he remains “Mr. Smile,” there is no next path.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 20, Page 34
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