Pardon Samsung’s LeeThe Constitution of the Republic of Korea underscores the role of the state to protect the lives and assets of the people. Since Thomas Hobbes pronounced the principle in “Leviathan” in 1651, it has been the basic concept of a modern democratic state. Hobbes even noted that individuals living in a democratic state must fulfill their obligations in return for their protection.
Korean people are asking what the government is doing to address their deepening anxieties amid the unceasing spread of the coronavirus. Even after vaccines emerged as a game-changer in the war against the virus, few Koreans have gotten the shots — or will get them soon. And yet, the Moon Jae-in administration nonchalantly reassures the public of its ability to reach herd immunity by November despite a critical shortage of vaccines. As major countries with big contracts with vaccine companies have started weaponizing vaccines — and as the U.S. government considers booster shots for its citizens, which will shrink supply for the rest of the world — the Moon administration is looking more hapless every day.
The problem of blood clots developing in people who received AstraZeneca vaccines made matters worse. Though an increasing number of countries like Israel and the UK are allowing people to shed their face masks, Korea is still ranked 100th in terms of vaccination rates. While social distancing measures by the government are pushing the self-employed to the edge of a cliff, the state coffers are emptying fast because of money spent to stimulate the economy.
The government must take action to overcome this crisis. Fortunately, Korea has a semiconductor card it can play. Moon is to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden for a summit in May. In that meeting, Moon must stress the need for the two countries to reinforce their alliance through vaccines and semiconductors. Foreign Minister Chung Ui-yong said there is an area where Korea can help America in the global value chain of chipmaking. That’s a good sign.
The United States wants Samsung Electronics to build more chip plants in the country. That calls for a decision by Samsung’s Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. Samsung has been considering construction of more facilities in the U.S., but that is impossible without Lee’s decision.
If Samsung decides to invest in the U.S., it could serve as Moon’s best negotiating card with Biden to help address vaccine shortages in Korea. It is time for the government to offer Lee a chance to play a crucial role — by giving him a pardon.