Mismatch of words and actions

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Mismatch of words and actions

 CHANG CHUNG-HOON
The author is the head of the industry 1 teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.


Ruling party members hoping to run for president in the next election are making business-friendly moves. Former Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon, former Prime Minister Chung Sye-gyun, and Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung have visited industrial sites. As former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, a presidential hopeful for the conservative camp, is touring semiconductor research centers and IT ventures, DP runners are pressed. Of course, you can hardly blame them for visiting industrial sites in search of economic solutions.

But their past behavior and the DP’s current moves make it hard to tell whether they are sincere or just putting on a show. In a recent speech to the Korea Federation of SMEs, Lee Nak-yon said that the government must retroactively offer loss compensation for small business owners after the pandemic. When he was prime minister, he ignored the sharp increase in the minimum wage as he pushed for income-led growth. I find it awkward as small businesses were in trouble because of the minimum wage before the pandemic.

Chung Sye-gyun visited the South Gyeongsang Provincial Assembly praising small modular reactors as the core of future industry. When he served as prime minister, he encouraged and rewarded the industry ministry officials who fabricated the economic efficiency of the Wolseong-1 reactor in accordance with President Moon Jae-in’s nuclear phase-out policy.

During his trip to the Hyundai-Kia Motors Research Institute in Hwaseong, Lee Jae-myung stressed the need to remove regulations on corporate activities to not restrict management. Until recently, he advocated for the collection of corporate cash reserves and the dissolution of chaebol.

Unlike the DP candidates, the party’s anti-business stance remains unchanged. The legislature dominated by the party is not listening to industries’ demands to revise the three business regulatory acts and the act on punishing owners for serious industrial disasters.

The government is supporting key strategic technologies such as semiconductors, bio and health, but compared to rivals, it is words only. U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress for $50 billion to nurture the semiconductor industry. The EU is investing 50 billion euros ($61 billion) and China is pouring in 1 trillion yuan ($157 billion) by 2025. The Korean government announced a plan to invest 510 trillion won ($458 billion) to build the K-semiconductor Belt, but most of the money actually comes from Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix investments.

Businesses hope that what the DP candidates felt and saw — and their messages — can be reflected in the policies. For that to work, what they say during the visits should be the same as what they tell the party. I hope they first stop the anti-business policies and regulatory legislations that are in progress in the National Assembly.
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