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[Kim Myeong-sik] Business community needs to raise own political voice

“I don’t like communists,” said Chung Yong-jin, vice chairman of the Shinsegae business group in a message on social media recently. He was responding to comments about his picture carrying a red wallet and Jackson Pizza in an advertisement. “Do I look any bit like a communist? Never misunderstand me ... I believe in anti-communist democracy which should be the core of our patriotism and is the only way to realize the ideals of the Free World,” he said.

As a citizen of this anti-communist state, there is nothing unusual in this self-identification of Chung, 53, who, effectively, heads Korea’s largest retail business. But, after 4 1/2 years of President Moon Jae-in’s leftist rule that has steadily made love calls to the communist North Korea, such a casual statement by a leading businessman sounded like a deliberate act of defiance against political authority.

Chung, a grandson of Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chull and same-aged cousin of Lee Jae-yong, is adored by the media for his flamboyant lifestyle and bold business actions. He married a top TV star, divorced her after having two children and remarried a flutist to father twins. A fitness buff and motorcycle collector, he has strong interest in the culinary arts and has befriended famous chefs.

His private remarks and words online sometimes contain sarcasm and subtle political criticism that have caused concerns to his Shinsegae executives on possible complaints from those in power. Years ago, when President Moon Jae-in invited uproar from his political opponents with a line in the visitors’ book at the mourning tent for the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, saying, “My dear boys and girls, I am sorry and thank you,” Chung similarly expressed “sadness and thanks” to his dead pet dog on social media.

The president was showing his true feeling because he knew he owed his ascent to power to the tragic deaths of hundreds of high school students in the 2014 maritime disaster that brought down public trust in then-President Park Geun-hye and caused months of mass protests. Either Chung genuinely sympathized with the president on his complex sentiment or rebuked him on ethical grounds.

Now presidential election campaigns are running high and we are curious of how the chaebol are looking forward to March 9. Chung Yong-jin is an exception in the general silence of the business community, whose members have suffered from the anti-business, pro-labor stance of the Moon Jae-in administration since its inception in 2017.

Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman and virtual head of Samsung Electronics, was jailed for bribery in connection with the Choi Sun-sil scandal during the Park Geun-hye presidency and was paroled several months before the completion of his 2 1/2-year sentence. Unlike their ancestors, the present chaebol owners do not seek special amity with power holders but fear the anti-business trend would only get worse should left-wing activists in alliance with labor unions and other radical elements stay in power.

Chey Tae-won, the leader of SK Group who has chaired the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry since March, has made it his special task to identify the cause of the apparent anti-business sentiment in the Korean public that is used by the leftist ruling force in making laws and systems that bind business activities. Researchers are looking into how chaebol enterprises were held accountable whenever economic crises occurred on the national and global levels.

The Law on the Penalties for Major Industrial Disasters is the most important outcome of leftist efforts to bring businesses to social condemnation. The statute enacted by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea with its large majority in the legislature goes into effect within two months to punish business owners in the event of deaths and injuries at industrial sites. The new law is initially applied to firms with 50 or more employees while labor unions call for the inclusion of smaller work places.

Employers responsible for major disasters leaving one or more workers dead or causing injuries to two or more shall be punished with at least one year in prison or a fine of up to 1 billion won ($845,000). As the annual number of deaths at industrial sites stood at 800 to 900 during the past two years, numerous corporate owners will face heavy punishments if the death toll remains at a similar level.

This law may reflect increased safety awareness in our society, but it also is a product of anti-business politics in contemporary Korea. Analysts point out that the four pillars of Moon Jae-in’s rule -- the “Minnochong” national labor union, Jeongyojo teachers union, environmental activist bodies and the Chamyeo Yeondae group watching corporate improprieties -- are all headed to inspiring antagonism toward businesses with progressive jurists on their side.

Radical activities of Minnochong and Jeongyojo often involve violations of laws leading to the prosecution of key members. But their indictments are given lenient sentences by sympathetic judges and help is available from the liberal Association of Lawyers for Democratic Society, also called “Minbyeon.” Inside the court, an unofficial research group once headed by the present Chief Justice Kim Myung-soo remains to protect leftist causes.

The raging coronavirus over the past two years may have slowed down the ruling force’s campaign to subdue industrialists and capitalists, aware that their businesses create jobs and incomes to sustain the national livelihood under attack of the epidemic. Amid the continuing adversity, however, the leftists wielded their organized power to protect their vested interests by alienating temporary workers and teachers.

Business owners and their employees, either members of Minnochong or the moderate Hannochong union, have witnessed how the national economy had retrogressed during the past years because of the wrong socioeconomic theme dubbed “income-led growth,” which simply meant the cart pulling the horse. Employers and workers should work together and prosper together, positively taking the opportunity of a change of government to improve things.

Entrepreneurs like Chung Yong-jin have had enough education and social training to hold a sound vision of the future. While pursuing their goals of life and business, they should freely express their own political ideas without intent to patronize or antagonize specific groups. When Chung said “I don’t like communists,” he was ready to take responsibility for any consequences from the social media post -- in the hope and belief that whoever wins the election would not mind it.


Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. He was managing editor of the Korea Times during the 1990s. – Ed.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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