The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Beyond the first meeting

Yoon and Lee should explore compromise in key agenda amid rising expectations

By Korea Herald

Published : April 23, 2024 - 05:30

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Expectations are mounting for the first-ever official face-to-face meeting between President Yoon Suk Yeol and the Democratic Party of Korea's leader Lee Jae-myung, which could take place as early as this week.

The meeting would be a crucial political event that could shed light on how the country’s key agenda items will be prioritized after the April 10 general election.

On Friday, Yoon proposed the meeting in a call to Lee. Since then, the two sides have been coordinating the details of the meeting, which is widely expected to offer a rare chance to improve frosty relations between the two leaders in a way that encourages them to seek much-needed legislative compromise and cooperation.

It is certainly a positive development that Yoon has finally changed his mind and decided to meet with Lee in person, apparently under pressure from the crushing defeat of his conservative People Power Party in the election.

However, there are concerns about whether the two former presidential rivals will produce any tangible results from the meeting. In the worst-case scenario, the two could just agree to disagree because their views on key issues remain poles apart.

On Monday, Yoon expressed his willingness to listen to Lee’s opinions. “The invitation (to the presidential office) was made as I want to listen to Chair Lee Jae-myung’s opinions as much as possible,” Yoon said.

“There have been many differences in views between the ruling and opposition parties. ... But we can explore agendas related to people’s livelihoods, where we can narrow our differences and agree on and talk about at least a few things that we can do to stabilize people’s livelihoods.”

Meanwhile, Lee on Monday said he would drive home the public sentiment revealed by the general election to Yoon in the upcoming meeting. “The presidential office, the government and the National Assembly should change together,” Lee said. “I hope the meeting will be a turning point to restore politics dedicated to the people.”

Their latest public comments, however, do not provide a clear hint at how the meeting would likely pan out, especially concerning thorny issues such as the controversial proposal by Lee to dole out 250,000 won ($181) to every South Korean, the protracted standoff between the government and doctors over the medical school enrollment quota hike and the appointment of a new prime minister.

Lee is widely expected to talk about his proposal for the cash handout that will require a fresh supplementary budget and cost around 13 trillion won. The Democratic Party floated the cash handout plan, supposedly aimed at helping people’s livelihoods, as one of its election pledges.

Predictably, Yoon and the conservative People Power Party are strongly opposed to the plan, slamming it as “populism” in the form of giving out cash that would undermine the country’s fiscal soundness.

The two leaders are also likely to clash over a “windfall tax” on banks that have profited from recent interest rate hikes if Lee raises the issue during the meeting with Yoon. On Monday, Lee said the Democratic Party unveiled plans to introduce the windfall tax to manage volatile economic situations in a stable way, saying that “more active measures are needed to lessen the burdens on people when oil prices stay high.”

The government’s plan to hike medical school admissions is also likely to be a major issue for the two leaders. About 12,000 trainee doctors have left their worksites since Feb. 20 in protest against the plan to increase the annual enrollment quota of medical students by 2,000.

Another potential focal point of the meeting may be how Yoon will handle Lee’s idea of a candidate for the next prime minister. Yoon badly needs cooperation from Lee, as the appointment of the prime minister requires confirmation in the National Assembly, which is dominated by the Democratic Party.

To pull off a successful meeting, both leaders must seek compromise and cooperation, despite their differences in policy. Given the urgency of key national agendas, they must aim high and explore more joint measures -- far beyond the simple fact of them holding a meeting for the first time.