Nothing to brag aboutIn a cabinet meeting Tuesday at the Blue House, President Moon Jae-in asked the people “not to be too upset” about a critical shortage of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) after China enforced export restrictions on key ingredients. The president added, “The government is making all diplomatic effort to secure enough quantity from foreign countries.” The remarks came a day after he ordered his aides to crack down on any hoarding, manage domestic supplies, and exert all efforts to import DEF.
But public anxiety is deepening. Diesel trucks have to wait in long queues at gas stations and car owners are worried if they can keep driving. Despite diplomatic efforts, imports of only 27,000 liters from Australia and 200,000 liters from Vietnam have been confirmed. That amount comes nowhere near the 600,000 liters needed for all types of cars in Korea on a daily basis.
The Blue House must take responsibility for the crisis. Despite Beijing’s decision on October 11 to restrict exports of urea, a main component, the presidential office only began to react in early November. The National Security Council (NSC) discussed the issue on November 4 and a Blue House task force was set up the following day.
As a result, the government lost the chance to address the issue. In a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on October 29 on the sidelines of G20 Summit in Rome, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong did not raise the issue when Korean media warned about serious shortages. President Moon attended the Oct. 31 Global Summit on Recovery of Supply Chain led by U.S. President Joe Biden, but he did not say anything about the problem.
Such passive reactions are in stark contrast to 2019, when Japan enforced export restrictions on materials for semiconductors. At that time, the Moon administration vehemently protested Tokyo’s measures, sourced replacements from other countries, and encouraged local companies to develop such materials on their own. This time, the government only started to respond after affirming a number of problems from a lack of DEF just as it did after the outbreak of Covid-19 in February 2020. (At that time, the government brushed off the scarcity of face masks and its slowness to purchase vaccines.) The Blue House says civil servants are moving slowly as Moon’s presidential term nears an end. That does not make sense. Isn’t the Blue House trying to hide behind them after taking credit for any achievements?
Nevertheless, Moon reportedly bragged about the achievements he made in his trip to Europe for a G20 Summit and the UN Climate Change Conference. No wonder Korea faces a DEF crisis. It has no shortage of immodesty.