Gov't Needs to Clean up Its Own Mess

      July 11, 2019 13:34

      President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday invited 30 heads of major Korean businesses to Cheong Wa Dae to discuss the impact of Japan's new export curbs on materials vital to Korea's IT industry. "This is an unprecedented emergency and we need to set up an emergency response system enabling the government and companies to communicate regularly," Moon told them, adding businesses "must be at the center" of these efforts. Yet many of the business leaders had no idea why they were there, and some complained that the president had only invited them for a photo op.

      No business leader was able to voice a frank opinion, and there was no serious discussion of the export restrictions. Each one was given just three minutes to speak during meeting of 50 people in total including government officials. And why were bankers there? They dutifully promised to invest in venture companies, but what did that have to do with the export curbs?

      The Japanese government claims that discussions with the Korean government about the handling of chemical products were halted when Moon took office. But the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Seoul proposed holding such a meeting in June, but was unable to do so because the position of the Japanese official in charge was vacant. That would be a grave oversight if it was true. The trouble is that it was a lie.

      When Japan recently claimed that some chemicals exported to South Korea could have ended up in North Korea to produce chemical weapons, the government here demanded proof. But the ministry indeed submitted records to the National Assembly in April showing that such materials could have been sent to a third country. That this third country was not North Korea is neither here nor there. The government should not have entangled itself in false denials. The first thing the government did after Japan announced the export restrictions was to ask businesses why they did not see this coming. But the government itself only found out about them from the media.

      The problem was caused by the Supreme Court, which ruled that a solemn treaty between states cannot override individual claims for compensation for Japan's wartime atrocities. It has that right under the Constitution, which wisely separates judicial and executive powers. But that also means that the government is now called upon to sort out this mess, instead of trying to wash its hands of the affair and summoning business leaders who are completely innocent of it to do it instead.

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