Too little, too late

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Too little, too late

The author is a deputy editor of the international and security team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Korea is losing on all fronts in the war against the coronavirus outbreak. After the most important safety net for the people was broken, the public sentiment has turned cold, and the struggling economy is faltering. On Jan. 2, President Moon Jae-in said citizens don’t have to feel overly anxious, but he ordered government officials to prepare for the worst on Feb. 4 — coincidently after a drop in his approval rating was announced on Feb. 3.

It would have been nice to capture the heart of China, but the government failed in that respect, too. It was inconsistent, anxious, and reluctant to impose a full ban on the entry of Chinese people. An entry ban would upset China, and no one denies the strategic importance of Beijing to Seoul. I vividly remember the president’s 2017 speech during a state visit to China, in which he said that as Korea is a small country, it would join the China Dream.

The Korean government should boldly say to China that there will be no entry ban. There is a good excuse. China contributes $6.31 million to the World Health Organization (WHO), and as the WHO is serving as if a spokesperson for China, it would have been a good reason. Newly appointed Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming kindly gave a guideline by saying he hopes Korea will make a decision corresponding with the WHO guidelines in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Feb. 1.

In the end, the government made a belated announcement on Feb. 3 to ban the entry of Chinese people from the regions affected by the lethal coronavirus. I give my condolences to those who devised the plan, but voters in the general election on April 15 know that the virus has spread all across China. It is the lowest of low moves, much less a clever move. Instead, how about South Korea following in the footsteps of North Korea, which quickly shut the border, sent a letter of condolences to China from its leader Kim Jong-un and gave money to the Chinese people. As is widely known, Pyongyang is several steps ahead of Seoul in diplomacy.

Suddenly I am curious why those people — who attacked U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris for “domestic intervention” and staged a “decapitation performance” at Gwanghwamun Square — are so quiet now? They were featured in the New York Times and the Guardian for demanding to “expel” him as they didn’t like his mustache. On Feb. 4, Ambassador Xing held a press conference and urged South Korea to follow the WHO guidelines. But the citizens are too quiet. Is it because Korea is a “small country”? In many ways, I feel bitter.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 28
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