Young people scoff at Pres. Park’s plan for another “Middle East boom”

Posted on : 2015-03-21 13:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
After recent trip to four Middles Eastern countries, Park making odd comments about the region as an oasis of opportunity
 attended by representatives from Junior Chamber International Korea
attended by representatives from Junior Chamber International Korea

“Try to make it so that the young people of Korea all empty out of the country. That way, when people ask where they went, you can say they’re in the Middle East.”

Young people - who were the target of this comment made by President Park Geun-hye during the 7th Trade and Investment Promotion Meeting on Mar. 19 - are furious.

The comment, one of Park’s trademark corny jokes, came in response to a report by Lee Ki-kweon, Minister of Employment and Labor. Lee had announced plans to develop a web portal and a smartphone app for overseas jobs as part of plans to encourage young skilled workers to work overseas.

During the meeting, Park’s words reportedly lightened the mood and got the audience laughing. While sources in the Blue House generally think that Park was trying to emphasize creating jobs for young people, the response that young people have been showing online has been icy. This reaction underlines just how deep the discomfort, discontent, and distrust of young people, who are facing the highest levels of unemployment in 16 years.

On Friday, some netizens urged the government to show contrition for the measures it has taken at home to address unemployment among young people. Others bashed the government’s view of the Middle East boom as being stuck in the 1970s.

“While they’re making jokes about all of Korea’s young people going to the Middle East, Korea’s young people are doing part-time jobs for 5,580 won (US$5.01) an hour. The country probably will be emptied of young people because of the low birth rate,” said have****, a commenter on Naver.

“If she had gone on a trip to Africa, would she have told us to go to Africa? She ought to be thinking about creating jobs. She must be out of her mind to tell young people to go to the Middle East,” said a netizens named paul**** on Daum.

“With oil prices at a historic low, it’s ridiculous to be going on about a construction boom in the Middle East. In the 1970s, the spike in oil prices created an abundance of oil dollars, leading to tons of construction projects. Today, we are seeing the exact opposite,” a Twitter user named @luna**** pointed out.

This situation resulted from the chasm yawning between the overweening ambition of Park, who is on a high from promoting the “second Middle East boom” after her trip to the region at the beginning of March, and South Korea’s young people, who are cowering before an uncertain future. Even worse, Park’s remark came the day after Statistics Korea announced on Mar. 18 that the unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 29 was 11.1%, the highest it has been since July 1999.

During the past two weeks since returning from her visit to four countries in the Middle East, Park has emphasized the results of her trip at nearly all her public appearances - except for her visit to the hospital to visit US Ambassador Mark Lippert.

“In the land of the burning sands, I found a new hope. I am confident that the second boom in the Middle East will lead to a second ‘miracle of the Han River,’” Park said at a state prayer meeting on the morning of Mar. 12.

During the trade and investment promotion meeting on Mar. 19, Park mentioned that the Middle East boom had helped South Korea overcome the oil crisis in the 1970s. “I’ve been sincerely praying for and hoping for a new boost for our economy, and the answer to that prayer is the Middle Eastern boom that is happening right now,” Park said.

The Blue House seems offended about the pushback to Park comments about helping South Korea’s young people go to the Middle East. “President Park was using the expression to emphasize that we need to make a lot of jobs for young people. This sounds like nitpicking,” a Blue House spokesperson said.

However, the Blue House has failed to clearly address the argument that Park’s attitude about sending young people to the Middle East is unrealistic.

Not only does the recent plunge in oil prices mean that the situation is different from the 1970s, but the overheated competition and cheap orders in the Middle East market sometimes cause companies to lose money.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has implemented a job creation policy of fining foreign companies that do not give priority to Saudi Arabian nationals when hiring, illustrating that it wouldn’t be easy for South Korean young people to find jobs in the Middle East.

By Jung Yu-gyung, staff reporter, and Seok Jin-hwan, Blue House correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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