It is unprecedented that a much-anticipated and potentially crucial presidential press conference was abruptly canceled with only three days left before the event, citing a controversial, if not dubious, reason.
President Moon Jae-in was scheduled to hold a New Year press conference Thursday, but the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae announced Monday it would call it off because the president has to focus on measures to counter the omicron-led COVID-19 surge.
It is doubtful that the president had no other option but to skip the presidential conference. If he had put so much emphasis on taking the lead in a fight for the forthcoming spike of the new variant, he should have done so here weeks earlier. Instead, he flew off to the Mideast for a three-nation trip that started from Jan. 15 and lasted through Jan. 22.
The president’s sudden shift toward battling the coronavirus came too late. On Wednesday, the country added a record 13,012 new cases. If President Moon were truly serious about overcoming the omicron crisis, the press conference would have provided a great chance for him to seek cooperation from the public. Unfortunately, he discarded the otherwise golden opportunity.
If not the coronavirus, what is the real reason for canceling -- not delaying -- the press conference at this critical juncture?
It seems that the president killed off the press briefing because he does not want to confront the painful truth -- a host of thorny political, economic and diplomatic issues he created -- and find himself struggling to come up with answers to serious questions from the press corps.
One of the questions reporters are dying to ask is the controversy over Cho Hai-ju, the former standing commissioner of the National Election Commission. Cho, who was a special adviser to Moon during his presidential campaign in 2017, expressed his intention to leave the commission, which was rejected by the president. As a result, for the first time ever, the entire staff of the NEC as well as virtually all regional election officials jointly urged Cho to resign.
If Moon were to be publicly asked about Cho’s resignation, which he reluctantly accepted on Friday while still on his trip to the Mideast, he might have discovered that he had turned into an electoral liability -- unless he issues an apology. Obviously, the president wants to avoid such humiliation.
There are other critical issues that the president has to clarify and explain. This month, North Korea continued to test fire ballistic missiles and even hinted at resuming the development of nuclear weapons. But Cheong Wa Dae is unwilling to condemn the threats, much less call them “provocations.” Toward the end of the term, Moon’s signature inter-Korean policy aimed at agreeing to the declaration of the war appears increasingly futile.
The complex diplomatic relations with the US and China is another topic that is lost in Moon’s persistently ambiguous silence, with the Beijing Olympics just around the corner.
Other unanswered issues include soaring inflation, protracted supply chain disruptions, growing tax burdens on citizens, surprise presidential pardons ahead of the presidential election and Moon’s trouble-laden housing policy -- which has been branded “a failure” even by ruling party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung -- to name just five.
President Moon’s attempt to skip press briefings is all the more disappointing because, when he was elected in 2017, he promised that, unlike his predecessor, he would actively hold press briefings and publicly discuss important national affairs. He didn’t. It is regrettable that Koreans have ended up with a president who is trying to avoid press conferences like the plague.