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Government Policy Direction Questioned

Posted January. 14, 2006 03:00,   


The business community is intensifying its criticism of government policy direction, including the recommendation of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (NAP) from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

As part of an unusual move, business organizations, which had refrained from voicing their opinions since President Roh took office, decided to mutually respond to the recommendation from the NHRC.

On January 12, in a briefing of the outcome of this year’s first chairmen meeting of the Federation of Korean Industries (KFI), Cho Geon-ho, standing vice chairman of the FKI, delivered the chairmen’s worries, saying, “The NAP recommendation runs the risk of undermining the order of free democracy. Although the business community did not actively express its opinion due to political considerations, business organizations will come up with joint responses based on close consultation.”

Regarding President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark in the New Year’s meeting of the business community on January 4, “Let me grumble a little bit to the business community,” Cho said, “If the president intends to drive forward a policy putting distribution first, rather than creating a business-friendly environment, that is the wrong direction,” in a response that bordered on disrespect of the government.

Members of the FKI staff who were listening to the response said, “We were shocked to hear that. That was the strongest remark to the government since the foundation of the FKI.”

Prior to that, the Korea Employers Federation and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry also described the NHRC’s recommendation as “shaking the fundamentals of free democracy and the order of market economy,” adding, “It is a measure that undermines the rule of law and challenges constitutional order.”

An executive of the FKI said, “In the past, we did not go beyond expressing our dissatisfaction with government policy by repeatedly submitting short statements or reports,” adding, “Even when the government pushed ahead with the ‘big deal’ shortly after the financial crisis in the 1990s, the atmosphere was less intense.”

Experts say that the business community presents unprecedented harsh criticisms of government policy because it feels a sense of crisis about an inclination toward progressivism in the government, political circles and some sectors of society.

In particular, the fact that it opposed ideological issues, including the national security law, private school law and public officials’ participation in politics, citing “preservation of the system,” is interpreted as an expression of its will to “protect what should be protected even by going beyond bounds.”

Kim Young-bae, vice chairman of Korea Employers Federation, said in a telephone interview with Dong-A Ilbo yesterday, “An attempt to judge economic issues by the standard of human rights amounts to the championing of egalitarianism,” adding, “The NHRC’s recommendation clearly went too far.”

Kim also said, “The incumbent government is taking larger, and even lopsided ideological moves compared with the initial stage of its term. Although we have just quietly watched, the five business organizations will closely cooperate with one another and actively respond from now on.”

A joint response by business organizations is considered unprecedented even within the business community, considering that they have displayed slight differences of opinion depending on issues or struggled with one another for leadership.

Jeong-Hun Park sunshade@donga.com