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SEOUL, Nov. 30 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak reproached his Cabinet members Tuesday for not having the right sense of crisis at a time when South Korea’s national security is at stake, Lee’s office Cheong Wa Dae said, apparently mindful of persistent public outcry over the administration’s response to North Korea’s latest military attack.
“We should recognize that (South Korea) is confronting the world’s most belligerent group,” Lee was quoted as saying in a weekly Cabinet meeting. But there seems to be a perception that dealing with a national crisis is a task for only the defense ministry, he said, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung.
He was presiding over the first Cabinet meeting since the North’s attack on the populated island of Yeonpyeong, just south of the tense inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea, a week ago. The attack killed two marines and two civilians, with nearly 20 others wounded.
“In a divided nation, national security is not relevant to the defense ministry alone. It is a matter for all ministries,” Lee said.
The president stressed that Cabinet members should enhance their own awareness of national security first before asking the public to do so.
Lee’s comments came amid unrelenting public criticism that the government had fumbled its initial response to the artillery barrage, leading to the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and a wave of anti-Pyongyang protests here.
“In a national emergency situation, all Cabinet members must return to their duties regardless of whether they were at the National Assembly or elsewhere,” Lee said.
He was apparently referring to the defense minister, who was late to the emergency security meeting at Cheong Wa Dae convened shortly after the North’s attack last week due to his attendance at a parliamentary committee.
Delivering a Trade Day speech later in the day, meanwhile, Lee said South Korea is still on track to become the world’s seventh-largest exporter despite North Korea’s continued military provocations and threats, proof of the international community’s trust in the country’s economy.
“This is exactly the time for all of us to fulfill our duties in our respective places,” he said during an event marking the Trade Day.
South Korea’s exports are expected to jump more than 28 percent this year to a record high of more than US$460 billion and again by more than 11 percent next year to reach $520 billion. The major Asian economy is projected to top US$1 trillion in total trade volume next year.
Le said stable economic indicators, including stocks and the currency exchange rate, in spite of the soaring military crisis are evidence that South Korea’s economy has matured and that the international community has high confidence in it. (*)