Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The President, the Dictator and the Deadly Flying Missle

President-elect Roh, newly showered and in a fresh change of clothes (phew) was today inaugurated as President of the Republic of Korea. He has outlined his major policy directions in his inaugural speech focusing on his vision of a more participatory government. And notably the Sunshine Policy will now go under the rubric of the "Peace and Prosperity Policy" but no significant change to the policy itself is evident. President Roh's entry into the Bluehouse is not likely to be easy. Pressing issues await his attention.

First and foremost is Monday's test fire of a missle into the East Sea/Sea of Japan by North Korea. This is not likely to sit well with Japan which has already noted its intention to boost its own forces if NK resumed such tests. The timing is particularly succint given the presence in SK of both Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Kiouzumi and Secretary of State Colin Powell for the inauguration. Indeed it would perhaps be niave to think the timing was anything other than well-planned. When it comes to brinkmanship NK seems to be proving that it has few peers.

Of course all this politics is impacting on the South Korean economy. The global uncertainty of the possibility of US war with Iraq, resultant high oil prices and the US economy's slow recovery is limiting Korea's ability to ensure its own growth. No surprises then that the Ministry of Finance and Economy is planning to front-load the budget. I'm not sure about the effectiveness of this move as MOFE has been 'front-loading' its budget for at least the last two fiscal budgets. Surely an even allocation over the fiscal year, especially given the poor prospects for a quick recovery in US, would be a more sustainable and prudent approach. It would also, I think, enhance stability in an already nervous market to show even-handed policy implementation rather than short-term notice of stop gap measure for short-term economic boosting. And certainly the market is feeling the brunt of current international events. The KOSPI stands at 592.25 down 24.04 points, under the important 600 mark (it used to be the important 700 mark a few months back).

Further damaging to the economy is the recent SK Corporation scandal over stock price manipulation. The head of SK has been arrested. But given the frequency of these events and the reluctance of Chaebols to initiate imperative reforms, I doubt this will be the last Chaebol scandal to hit the news.

Phew! And finally, I want to briefly mention about the Daegu Subway tragedy. One thing that stung a little in reading the papers was the noted fact that in the area of public safety, Korea has a very poor record. The department store and bridge collapses in the mid-1990s, the accident on the Daegu Subway line construction, not to mention other lesser accidents that have occured during Korea's rapid construction. Its lamentable that in times of economic prosperity and development these accidents still occur and more so because the safety procedures existed but obviously were not known or used. People are being duly arrested for negligence but I'm not sure what is happening with the crazy who did this. I heard one report saying the spokesman of the families and friends of the victims calling for the death of the negligent parties but I sincerely hope that will not be the case. Culpable yes, a threat to society in the future, no. It can only be hoped that the notable outcome is enhance safety procedures and awareness, implementation of adequate safety facilities and exits, exercises in emergency situations for staff and education for the public on how to act and deal with these situations in the future. From such tragedy needs to come greater awareness and conviction to not let it happen again.

Sports News

The weekend was spent at Peongchang which is vying for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was beautiful with heaps and heaps of snow. It was my first time skiing and I had a great time. No broken bones or anything and I owe it all to my good friend Daniel who took the time to teach me and Sung-Joo the basics so we could enjoy our skiing trip. Thanks!

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"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui