The leading candidates’ stances on the THAAD deployment have been somewhat ambiguous, especially given how close we are to election day.
In the second presidential debate on April 19, Moon maintained reservations about THAAD, rather than objecting outright. (Reservations that he once likened to “strategic ambiguity”.) Ahn, meanwhile, did a 180-degree turn, from objection to acceptance.
Neither of these stances can be understood without considering the politics. Moon dares to catch two hares: the liberal repulsed by the THAAD deployment, and the conservative who remains wary of a liberal candidate that can’t be trusted on matters of national security. Ahn realizes that he needs more conservative votes in order to win.
Sim’s stance on THAAD has been clear from the beginning, and she used the issue to lay into both candidates.
And last but not least, we also bring you what the candidates think of tax reform. Bon appétit.
Sim Sang-jung: Are you saying that you would agree to [deploying] THAAD if [North Korea] conducted its sixth nuclear test?
Moon Jae-in: I said, if North Korea pushes ahead with its sixth nuclear test and China is unable to deter it, then deploying it would be a possibility, to be precise.
Sim Sang-jung: I was extremely perplexed when you talked about “strategic ambiguity” regarding the deployment of THAAD. I would say that “strategic ambiguity” are words of a critic, not of a political leader. What would the US and China think of “strategic ambiguity”?
Moon Jae-in: Won’t need strategic prudence? For such an important diplomatic security issue?
Sim Sang-jung: A political leader who should be making political decisions is talking about “strategic ambiguity”, so…
Moon Jae-in: If I say everything now, there won’t be any diplomatic cards left to play.
Sim Sang-jung: To the US, China, and our neighboring nations, “strategic ambiguity” would be seen as a double-play. China engaged in economic retaliation [against us] because they thought we were going to agree to [deploying] THAAD, and the US thought [the prospects] were unclear, so they forced us into it. I think your equivocal diplomatic attitude makes us an easy target for powerful countries.
Moon Jae-in: Whether you like my position or not, I have clarified my position. You should ask that question to Mr. Ahn Cheol-soo who has a non-commital position.
Sim Sang-jung: We should make it clear to the people whether deploying THAAD would be beneficial for national interests or not, and then we can decide on what to do in terms of diplomacy. One of the fundamental problems I see regarding “strategic ambiguity” is that the Minjoo Party has maintained an ambiguous position without deciding on an official party platform from the initial stages [of the THAAD dispute], and the government and Saenuri made THAAD deployment a fait accompli should North Korea conduct a nuclear test. They made it a matter of course. Since the dominant party with a big mic hasn’t expressed its position, the Minjoo Party played a big role in spreading distorted understanding, biased understanding of THAAD. I believe that was very unfortunate.
Moon Jae-in: I disagree. The White House now seems to be saying that the deployment of THAAD should be decided by the next [South Korean] president. Our own Ministry of National Defense expressed that it would be physically difficult to deploy THAAD before the presidential election. So now, the THAAD deployment card will be handed over to the next administration. The next administration should wisely go through procedural justification domestically, negotiate with the US and China, and protect both national security and national interests. It should be decided rationally in that way.
Sim Sang-jung: Regarding that point, a White House security policy advisor called THAAD deployment a matter for the next [South Korean] president to decide. Although both Korea and the US have taken their words back, I believe that the meaning of those words is clear. Deploying THAAD prior to the presidential election is not feasible. And I think the US and China have been bargaining over THAAD in the process of negotiating their strategic interests. In that aspect, when the KORUS FTA is negotiated, it can be used as leverage.
To me, it feels very serious that Mr. Ahn has changed his position on THAAD, making it a fait accompli and thereby kicking away the opportunity to consider whether it would be beneficial for national interests. What are your thoughts on that?
Ahn Cheol-soo: I will answer that first. Since I have enough time, I can tell you without being rushed. The situation is changing rapidly now. Currently, THAAD is in the process of being deployed. And North Korea’s provocations are becoming more serious. Considering all of these situations, we must deploy THAAD. But at the same time, there is the problem of persuading China. China needs to be aware of our situation now. The most important matter of security for us is the North Korean nuclear bomb issue, and we cannot but cooperate with our alley, the US, to resolve this problem. And we have to let [China] know that the unstable Korean Peninsula is also harmful to China’s national interests. In terms of China as a diplomatic goal, I think it would be a good direction for us to keep matters of security and economy separate, on two different tracks.
Moon Jae-in: Wait, after announcing that you’ll push ahead with deployment, how would you persuade China diplomatically?
Ahn Cheol-soo: By explaining our situation properly. In a way, the Park Geun-hye administration had an ambiguous position. I believe the big [flaw] was that they fed wrong ideas to the Chinese government. The reason I was against [THAAD] in the beginning is, order is extremely important in diplomacy. But the [Park administration] skipped the process of persuading the Chinese government and severely damaged our national interests. That was my judgment of what happened at the time.
Moon Jae-in: In the People’s Party, aren’t you the only one who is asserting that and isn’t the official party platform of the People’s Party still anti-THAAD?
Ahn Cheol-soo: The Chief Campaigner Son Hak-kyu said this yesterday. We all revolve around the presidential candidate. The whole party is coming to this opinion.
Moon Jae-in: Did the People’s Party change its platform?
Ahn Cheol-soo: That is how it’s progressing.
Moon Jae-in: The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations continuously gave tax breaks to the wealthy and increased taxes for the common people. Now is the time to regain tax fairness and taxation justice. Tax increases should once again be focused on the wealthy and chaebol conglomerates. There shouldn’t be an increased tax burden on smaller businesses and the middle class. I think tax increases should occur with stronger tax on the high income groups, stronger tax on capital income, increased effective tax rates for corporations, and increased nominal tax for corporations with a tax base of over 50 billion won. Last year, there was a 10 trillion won increase in tax revenues. This year, it’s expected to be around 8 trillion won. If I become president, I will use the tax revenues to create jobs. I will draw up a revised supplementary budget of 10 trillion won and use it to create jobs.
Ahn Cheol-soo: There are two things that are necessary for tax balance. First, it is important to assess the earnings properly. If the earnings aren’t properly assessed, people who make a lot of money can pay low taxes, and it makes the people around them feel inferior and relatively deprived. That should not happen. Secondly, it is important to adopt a progressive tax. It is reasonable that someone who earns more should pay a larger proportion of tax. But that’s not the case in reality. For instance, regarding corporate tax, statistics from several years ago showed that the effective tax rate for companies with a net profit of over 500 billion won was 16%, while it was 18% for companies with a smaller net profit. I would like to say that addressing these issues above all else is in accordance with taxation justice.
Sim Sang-jung: There are two parts to taxation justice. One is the issue of balance. To someone who makes 20 million won, 100,000 won is a huge amount of money. But someone who makes 200 million won, even if they are taxed 10 million, they still have 190 million won to use. Taxes should be applied progressively, reflecting the spirit of sharing for the community. But powerful people who make a lot of money dodge taxes illegally or by getting around the law, while salaried workers pay their taxes regularly. That’s where the people distrust [the government]. Second, people want to receive welfare corresponding to the amount of taxes they paid, but while a lot goes out of their pockets, they don’t receive much in return. We need to improve the transparency of the tax administration. That’s why I proposed a social welfare tax that can be used solely for the purpose of welfare.
Hong Joon-pyo: About 30 to 40% of our country’s people are exempt from paying taxes. They don’t pay taxes. The top 20% pay for 93% of the total income tax in Korea. So I’m saying that raising tax for the wealthy, raising tax for the rich is too much. Rather, I think the corporate tax and the like should be reduced. That way we can encourage corporate investments, and many jobs will be created and companies will be revitalized. What we mainly need to watch is tax evasion. There are probably a lot of flaws in tax revenues from corporations and particularly people in professional jobs. I believe actively preventing tax evasion in these groups and properly collecting taxes is taxation justice.
Yoo Seong-min Where there are earnings, there are taxes, and where there are assets, there are taxes. We need to stand by this principle of people who have higher income and people who have more assets paying more. But many presidential candidates make pledges on countless social welfare programs, but they are not saying anything at all about how much more tax they will be collecting. In 2012, the PGH administration fooled the people, saying that welfare without tax increases was possible. The same thing is happening again. You can assume that the candidate who is not mentioning anything about tax increase is lying. I will head towards mid-level tax burden and mid-level welfare. If the people want a welfare spending equivalent to the OECD average, then after reaching an agreement with the people, I will work out welfare in phases.
The Dissolve is publishing extracts from all six presidential debates.
The Korean transcript for this second debate is at Focus News.
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