January 11, 2019 09:43
President Moon Jae-in in a New Year's press conference on Thursday admitted "painfully" high unemployment but insisted on "maintaining the policy direction, while making up for areas that need to be complemented."
It was a partial acknowledgement that key economic policies such as the drastic minimum wage hike have backfired but stopped short of promising a substantial course correction.
The economy took center stage, with the word mentioned no fewer than 35 times in Moon's address. "Employment figures are weak, and a failure to meet the public's expectations was the most disappointing and painful part," he said. "The biggest task facing the government this year is to resolve this problem."
But he parried widespread criticism that the minimum wage hike has in fact left many low-income earners worse off as employers cut their hours. "Many people think that the minimum wage hike is the culprit, but I believe there were also positive effects," he said.
However, his solution was strengthening rather than changing key policies. "I will make up for areas that need to be complemented, but it is necessary to maintain the current policy direction. I don't think we need a new solution," he said. "My goal this year is to ensure that the public can tangibly feel that the government's policy is heading in the right direction."
Moon also promised to improve relations with North Korea and work for the easing of sanctions against the North. "The second U.S.-North Korea summit will pave the way for [Kim Jong-un's] visit" to South Korea, he said.
He then defended attempts to revive cross-border business projects before the North has even begun to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
"The Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to Mt. Kumgang benefited both Koreas. Due to North Korea's willingness to resume them without any conditions, obstacles that needed to be resolved with the North have been solved," he said.
"I will cooperate with the U.S. and the international community for the speedy resolution of international sanctions, which is the remaining problem."
Yet only last month Moon told U.S. President Donald Trump that it is necessary to maintain sanctions against North Korea until it achieves complete denuclearization.
The press conference lasted for more than two hours that were mostly given over to defending existing policies. Critics said there was a dire lack of any new ideas to accommodate the demands of businesses that are stuck in a prolonged slump.
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