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Fact check: 1st TV debate for 20th presidential election

From left: Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party, Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People`s Party (Joint Press Corps)
From left: Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party, Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People`s Party (Joint Press Corps)
Four major candidates met in a studio Thursday night for the first televised debate ahead of South Korea’s 20th presidential election.

Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and his main rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party met their minor counterparts Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the left-wing Justice Party.

In a span of two hours until 10 p.m., the candidates clashed over topics ranging from real estate to diplomacy. The debate was fierce, and so were the comments made in the heated conversation.

Here's a fact-check on some of the major comments made by the candidates during the Thursday debate. 
Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Joint Press Corps)
Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Joint Press Corps)
Lee: “Former US Forces Korea Commander Brooks also said South Korea does need not any more THAAD missiles.”

While discussing whether South Korea needs additional deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile units, Lee said US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks had said that South Korea does not need an additional THAAD battery on its territory.

Yoon said that the retired general emphasized the need to utilize the existing ones to work in tandem with other missile networks in place to create a comprehensive missile defense network but did not necessarily oppose to the idea of deploying more American antimissile defense.

Lee quoted Brooks' remarks from his comments made during a Radio Free Asia interview on October 2020.

The story does come with a headline that states that Brooks dismissed the need for an extra THAAD antimissile battery on the Korean Peninsula, as Lee said, but the quotes used in the story does not directly show whether Brooks actually made that comment during the interview.

The quote does, however, support Yoon’s rebuttal that Brooks argued for Seoul maintaining a missile defense network in which the Patriot intercepts missiles flying at low altitudes and THAAD takes down threats at high altitudes. 
Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Joint Press Corps)
Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Joint Press Corps)
Lee: “I retrieved 70 percent of the profit at its maximum rate (from the Daejang-dong development project) and brought back 110 billion won additionally.”

The Democratic Party candidate asserted the initial deal entailed Seongnam city government agreeing to take back 70 percent, or 440 billion won, from the expected profit of 620 billion won estimated at the start of the project in 2015.

He additionally claimed that the city government succeeded in earning 112 billion won through additional projects undertaken in the area in 2017.

But the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice said in a press conference in October that Daejang-dong development project yielded a total of 1.8 trillion won in profit, and the city government only retrieved 10 percent of it, or 182.2 billion won.

The huge difference in the argued retrieval rate comes down to the scope of what each side claims as the official profit from the project.

Lee calculated his rate based on the profit gained from the sale of land used for the project, while the civic group also took into account the profit made from selling the apartment units built on the patch of land in Daejang-dong. 
Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (Joint Press Corps)
Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (Joint Press Corps)
Yoon: "I have never even mentioned abolishing the minimum wage, and I didn’t even bring up the topic of nullifying the 52-hour workweek system."

During the debate, Sim claimed that Yoon has tried to abolish the two laws in question in approaching job creation. Yoon flat-out denied her claims, saying he has never intended to make such moves.

Sim was quoting from Yoon's comments made in late November during his visit to a corporation based in North Chungcheong Province.

"The minimum wage law and 52-hour-workweek system are very unrealistic and cause disturbances to corporate management, especially for small- and medium-enterprises needing to work creatively instead of opting for simple operation," he said then.

"Overall, I understand your views that such armchair theories are creating an adverse managerial environment for small- and medium-enterprises, and I vow to abolish unrealistic policies if elected."

During the visit, Yoon also commented that the rigid standards applied in the minimum wage system undermine the level of employment and cause labor shortages for some companies.

"I have heard many comments yesterday that employment cannot be made to the full extent if with rigid minimum wage system and that there's a shortage in labor as many who are willing to work with wages below this level are not able to join the workforce," he added.

"I will decide after sufficiently listening to the opinions of the industrial sector."

Yoon did show a critical stance toward the two policies in question, which the Moon Jae-in administration highlights as its achievements. He argued for flexibility in running the 52-hour workweek system and vowed to carefully listen to the opinion that the minimum wage law inhibits employment.
Sim Sang-jeung of the minor left-wing Justice Party (Joint Press Corps)
Sim Sang-jeung of the minor left-wing Justice Party (Joint Press Corps)
Sim: "A person owning a single home with the market price of 2.5 billion won would (have to pay) 500,000 won a year. I am ashamed to see that you would label the 500,000-won payment from a person living in a 2.5 billion won-worth home as a bomb."

The Justice Party candidate claimed that Yoon is wrong in claiming that the amount of comprehensive real estate tax levied on homeowners is a "bomb," as the amount only reaches 500,000 won per person if he or she owns a property worth 2.5 billion won.

According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance in November, 72.5 percent of single-home owners had homes with a market price of 2.5 billion won or less in 2021. And those homeowners subject to the tax were levied an average of 500,000 won each for comprehensive real estate tax.

Comprehensive real estate tax is levied on those with real estate with an aggregate value of 1.6 billion won or more, which means that each single-home owner with a property valued between 1.6 billion won and 2.5 billion won paid 500,000 won in comprehensive real estate tax on average.

The average value stated does not imply that every homeowner in that category paid a flat rate of 500,000 won each, unlike Sim claims.

A simple calculation shows that a single homeowner with a real estate property valued at 2.5 billion won should have paid 7.41 million won in comprehensive real estate tax if they had held the property for 10 years.

Please feel free to reach out to The Korea Herald if in need of fact checks on comments made by presidential candidates or others ahead of the March 9 election.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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