Worsening economy, stalled denuclearization blamed for Moon’s declining approval rate

By Cui Zhiying Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/3 9:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

According to a survey by South Korean pollster Realmeter released at the end of December, only 45.9 percent of the South Korean public claimed they approved of President Moon Jae-in's performance. It is noticeable that when Moon took office in May 2017, the figure was over 85 percent, his highest rating ever.

The main reason for the steep decline has been the economic slowdown in South Korea. When Moon first entered the Blue House, the South Korean public held great expectations for him and believed he would advance the country's economy.

Upon resuming power, Moon took actions to boost the South Korean economy, including a minimum wage hike, a cut in the working hour, and measures to create jobs, but the result was not satisfactory. On the contrary, some of these moves have increased the burden on enterprises, making it even more difficult for their daily operations. The higher wage costs have had a negative impact on the economy.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate for young workers has hit its highest level, reaching 9.5 percent from 6.9 percent in 2010. The income gap between the rich and the poor has widened, with the top 20 percent of the population earning 11.27 times more than the bottom 20 percent. The higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment.

To raise the approval rating, the most important thing for Moon is to recover the South Korean economy. The International Monetary Fund forecast that the Korean economy would expand only 2.8 percent in 2018 and 2.6 percent in 2019.

Currently, major South Korean businesses seem to have lost their competitiveness in the international market. Even the semiconductor and electronics sectors, which are South Korea's leading industries, may also face potential hardship due to increased competition from China. President Moon needs to put forward a more effective economic plan to deal with such issues.

In the meantime, the country cannot fully boost its economy without further improvement of relations with Beijing, as the two can cooperate in many fields. This year is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai, which offers Moon an opportunity to promote relations with China.

Another reason for Moon's low approval rate is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has not paid a visit to South Korea as planned. Moon expected that a visit by Kim could bring an enhanced relationship with Pyongyang and as a result improve his approval rating. However, South Korea is caught between the US and North Korea, and both countries have refused to offer concessions. The North Korean nuclear issue is stuck in a stalemate and there are no incentives for both Koreas to make any further progress.

Although Washington-Pyongyang relations are stalled, a breakthrough is expected in 2019. The root of the standoff is that North Korea and the US have not fully agreed on the phase of denuclearization.

Pyongyang will not unilaterally disarm and wants reciprocal action from the US, while the Trump administration has claimed that there will be no sanctions relief until complete denuclearization.

However, North Korea still hopes to enhance its relations with the US and prefers to communicate, as does the US. During the annual televised New Year speech, Kim said he was ready to meet Trump again at any time. The second Trump-Kim summit is likely to take place in the first quarter of this year. If both nations want to improve their relations, they should be able to make concessions.

When there is further progress in US-North Korea relations, Kim will likely visit South Korea, and inter-Korean relations will certainly be improved. Notably, Kim sent a rare year-end letter to Moon, saying he is willing to meet again next year to discuss denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula, which can be seen as a positive sign for their relations.

The author is director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at Tongji University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: Why Moon’s approval rate is dropping


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