Counting the chickens
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Until now, the Moon Jae-in administration has promoted Korea as a model of success for its control of the coronavirus pandemic. Comparing Korea to the western advanced countries that failed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 — including the United States, Italy and France — the government said Korea has seen success great.
Let’s look at our regional neighbors. There are 21 jurisdictions, except North Korea, in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to Northeast Asian countries like Korea, China and Japan, there are 10 Southeast Asian countries, four countries in Oceania and Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
But Korea’s cases per population are relatively high for the region. Among the 21 economies, it is No. 16. As of June 22, Korea reported 241 confirmed cases per million. Higher than Korea are Singapore (7,212), Brunei (336), Australia (296), Malaysia (270) and the Philippines (267). And yet, President Moon says Korea is a world leader of disease control. Furthermore, the government even allocated 120 billion won ($99.2 million) to promote “K-disease control.”
If the bluff is just a show, that is actually fortunate. But a wrongful campaign endangers the people. The government and the ruling Democratic Party started boasting that Korea successfully stopped the spread of the coronavirus when the daily number of new cases dropped below 20 shortly before the April 15 general elections.
Today, we are worrying about a second wave of infections, as the number of new cases skyrocketed to near 70 a day. Foreign media are carefully analyzing the situation. The Associated Press recently ran an article, titled as “Resurgence of virus threatens South Korea’s success story,” and many foreign media picked it up.
The government’s premature judgment and flamboyant campaign not only threatens public health, but also hurt inter-Korean relations. Because the Moon administration promoted inaccurate perceptions, inter-Korean ties and the denuclearization issues are facing a crisis.
Over the past years, the government has promoted tirelessly the notion that peace has been established on the Korean Peninsula. During the meeting with elder statesmen of the country at the Blue House in September 2018, Moon claimed, “North Korea has stopped working to advance and improve its nuclear and missile programs.”
The North continued to test missiles. It is about to conduct a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a nightmare for the United States.
What President Moon claimed after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump met at Panmunjom in July last year was also not quite true. At the time, he said that Pyongyang and Washington had declared they would end hostile relations and open a new era of peace. But talks between the United States and North Korea were shut down.
The Moon administration probably helped ruin the negotiations by offering information to North Korea that wasn’t really true. According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, Kim Jong-un believed in Moon’s advice and proposed to Trump during their summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February last year that North Korea was willing to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex and faced a humiliating rejection. At the time, Kim trusted Moon’s words that the United States would lift sanctions if he shuts down Yongbyon.
Because Moon is prompting sugar-coated wishful thoughts instead of cold reality, the inter-Korean relations and North-U.S. relations deteriorated and Seoul faced a catastrophe such as Pyongyang’s demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. If the government had insight into the North’s deceptive denuclearization strategy, 17 billion won would not have been spent to build the liaison office in North Korea. If the government continues to sugarcoat the reality, it will soon face the people’s strong rage and stern judgment.