Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee is causing a stir with his remarks apparently disparaging the government’s policy performance and castigating a former prime minister’s drive for profit sharing between large and small firms.
Asked to assess the Lee Myung-bak administration’s economic policies, he had said on Thursday, “I am not satisfied but still won’t give out a failing mark since the economy has grown substantially compared with the preceding 10 years.“
Cheong Wa Dae on Friday expressed irritation toward Lee’s nuanced words.
“(The remarks by Lee) were obviously uncomfortable to hear,” one high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters.
Another official said that it was difficult to understand why the (Samsung Electronics) chairman would make such comments when “he knows better than anyone else how President Lee Myung-bak is working to help create a more favorable business environment and rejuvenate the economy.”
The Samsung chairman was speaking to reporters before attending a meeting of the Federation of Korean Industries.
Lee fired a direct barb at former Prime Minster Chung Un-chan for trying to milk funds out of larger corporations to help the smaller firms.
Dubbed as “profit-sharing,” the scheme hatched by Chung who now heads a semi-governmental committee on nurturing mutual growth of large and smaller companies involves calling for conglomerates to share proceeds exceeding their original profit goals.
Lee said he had never heard of the term, nor does he understand it.
“I have never learned this from texts on economics, and I am not aware if this is used in socialist, capitalist or communist countries,” he said.
The former prime minister, in a tit-for-tat move, refuted the businessman’s comments on Friday.
”Do not insult (profit-sharing) with ideological standards,“ Chung said.
He added that viewing profit-sharing from an ideological perspective shows that (Lee) does not truly understand the meaning of the term.
Conglomerates here have been avidly stepping up efforts to support their vendors and other smaller firms on a drive ignited by President Lee last year who said he would newly focus his policies on creating a “fair society.”
But smaller firms and the government have chorused that more is needed.
One industry watcher who declined to be identified said such comments from the nation’s leading company may be an indication that the president was indeed becoming a lame duck.
Others said there was no reason why the Samsung owner should not be allowed to express his thoughts regarding a government policy.
The political sector, however, seemed to be siding with Cheong Wa Dae on this issue.
The ruling Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Sung-tae said the Samsung owner needs to go back to basics, saying his comments were born from self-righteous thoughts.
He also highlighted Lee’s weakness by bringing his past crimes into light and noting that the tycoon should remember that he was pardoned just last year for those crimes.
On a more general note, Kim pointed out that larger companies may believe they are helping smaller firms out, but that in reality, small and mid-sized firms will always be the weaker link.
The main opposition Democratic Party said the Samsung Electronics chairman knows exactly what the government is trying to do, and urged him to support the campaign.
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com