April 13, 2010 11:30
President Lee Myung-bak, who is in Washington D.C. to attend the nuclear security summit, urged the U.S. to waste no more time in ratifying the pending free trade agreement with Korea which was signed in 2007.
"I'm worried that the [U.S.] government may resort to certain protectionist measures" in order to revive its economy, Lee said in an interview with the Washington Post on Monday (local time). If it "does that, it could lose a lot of its global leadership and prestige, because the United States has always been a beacon of free trade."
Lee said the benefits of trade protectionism are "very short-term," adding that the true competitiveness of the U.S. economy lies in its leading role in free trade.
He added, "The United States is very determined to reengage with the Asian region, and I fully welcome that. And there is a role that the Americans must and should play in this region... Because if you look at Korea, the trade volume we have with China alone is far greater than our trade volume with Japan and the United States combined."
"The FTA is not just simply a trade agreement or an economic agreement. It really is much more than that... I'm very certain that the U.S. administration fully realizes the importance and significance of the [Korea-U.S. FTA]. I hope that the U.S. administration and President Obama will continue to work closely with the U.S. Congress so that the [FTA] will be ratified as soon as possible," he said.
Lee also discussed the situation in North Korea following its disastrous currency revaluation. "I mentioned their efforts to have currency reform, which failed, and as a result, the ordinary lives of the North Korean people have just gotten worse than before, and it's worsening day by day," Lee said.
"We have received a lot of reports from North Korea that for the first time the North Korean leadership is now intent on actually explaining their reason for the failure to the North Korean population," he added. "And so the difference in the North Korean leadership's behavior is that now they are actually addressing the population's discontent -- something that we haven't seen in the past."
Regarding the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, Lee said that once the investigation is completed "we will respond accordingly. But right now, I think it's premature for me to make a comment on what type of option or policy options that we will employ. But I'm very committed to responding in a firm manner if need be."
Meanwhile, in an editorial published the same day the daily projected that South Korea will "feel compelled to respond," although not necessarily through military means, if a North Korean mine or torpedo is determined to be the cause of the sinking. This would almost certainly diminish the chances for resumption of inter-Korean dialogue, it added.
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