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Having put off U.S. visit, Park must dispel public fears over MERS

Having put off U.S. visit, Park must dispel public fears over MERS

Posted June. 11, 2015 07:32,   


President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the U.S. scheduled for June 14-19 has been postponed, which appears to be a political decision made in consideration of public anxiety over MERS outbreaks in Korea. President Park apparently needed a measure that places the safety and lives of the public before anything amid growing public distrust in the government due to failure in early response to the MERS outbreak again after last year’s Sewol ferry disaster.

The U.S. put off the president’s overseas tours when domestic conditions do not permit. In an editorial entitled “President Park should visit the U.S. after controlling MERS outbreaks” printed in Tuesday’s issue, The Dong-A Ilbo raised concern that if the government fails to halt second-phase transmission of MERS, public anger against the government could escalate. Due to President Barack Obama’s tight schedule, it would be difficult to reschedule a summit, but the Seoul government must display its diplomatic capacity to ensure that a summit can take place at the earliest convenience for both sides as they have announced.

President Park’s postponement of her U.S. visit just four days ahead of the event entails fairly sizable diplomatic burden on Korea. After Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the U.S. in April, Chinese President Xi Jinping will also pay a visit to the U.S. in September, Korea also needs to demonstrate the solidity of the Korea-U.S. alliance. It is also true that North Korea’s deployment of nuclear weapons and missiles is a real threat that can potentially jeopardizes the lives of 50 million people in South Korea. There is also the possibility that the postponement of her visit could spread a sense of anxiety that the MERS situation in Korea is quite serious.

Now that President Park has put off her visit to the U.S. despite such burden, she must put the MERS situation under control with solid determination and a strong sense of responsibility. There are still incompatible messages from different ministries within the government, which even causes the public to be confused about who the central command in charge of the situation is. In its "first recommendation to the Korean government" released on Wednesday, the Korea-World Health Organization joint inspection team advised that since the spread of MERS has nothing to do with schools, schools that are temporarily closed should consider resuming class. Nonetheless, the Education Ministry sent guidelines on school closing, instructing the metropolitan and provincial education superintendents to decide on school closure at their own discretion by considering the probability of MERS infections and situation in the local community, which seems to reveal incompatibility between different authorities.

What Korea needs right now is the commitment to all-out struggle to keep the infectious disease at bay through concerted efforts by the entire Korean people, irrespective of differences between the central and local governments and the ruling and opposition parties. We should give words of encouragement to health workers who are safeguarding the life and safety of the public by risking their own lives, and display a sense of citizenship by being considerate to neighbors even when coughing lightly. The president should serve as the "supreme commander in the fight against MERS" who is comprehensively spearheading all these issues. Now that the important diplomatic schedule of Korea-U.S. summit has been postponed already, President Park should take the lead in directing the Cabinet, which is devoid of the prime minister, and the presidential office, and dispel lingering concern about MERS within Korea and overseas.