Appointments Key to National UnityPresident Kim Dae-jung again stressed the "great unity of the nation" when he stopped in Taegu on his inspection tour. Rhetoric like "national unity" and "overcoming regional conflict" has become too commonplace to mean much, but this time there is something about the circumstances and in the old President''s tone that will have us watching with interest what will follow. Since his nomination for the Nobel Prize, the President has been emphasizing the "politics of harmony and unity" as the nation''s foremost issue. And on his first visit since his nomination to the region where there is considerable discontent, he put unusual stress on harmony and unity.
Right after the nomination for the prize, it was reported that Blue House officials were startled by the wide divergence in responses of people from different regions. The officials seem to have realized belatedly that regional conflict has become much more serious than they suspected. They reportedly concluded that the issue of harmony and unity was more important and more urgent even than the relationship with North Korea or the economy and business. It is a good thing the government at last fully realizes how serious the problem of regional conflict has become, and is preparing to tackle the problem.
In fact, the President has been aware of the problem for many years. As an opposition leader, he repeatedly claimed he was the worst victim of the regional conflict. He never missed a chance to stress that the conflict must be overcome at any cost. In his inauguration address, he promised to end regional conflict, which had become a serious threat to the nation. But nearly three years after the inauguration, general opinion is that relations between Kyongsang and Cholla regions have become worse, not better.
Speaking to the citizens of Taegu, President Kim candidly admitted he had not been very successful in dealing with the problem. He said he had been working to ensure more money was allotted to Kyongsang region than to Cholla region, but now realized this was not enough to win the trust of the Kyongsang people. He vowed to make a bigger effort.
Until now, the government has been inclined to deny the seriousness of regional conflict. This has been one of the factors aggravating the problem. That is why we find particular hope in the President''s frank admission of failure.
At the center of the regional conflict problem lies the issue of appointing officials. The government''s favoring of Cholla people has angered people from other regions. A disproportionate number of Cholla people have been filling not only government positions, but also positions at government-backed and government-influenced businesses. Kyongsang people, after holding prominent positions under former governments, probably feel particularly bitter. This is why many people there are cynical about whatever the government does and are not impressed with President Kim''s nomination for the Nobel Prize, which normally would be an occasion for national pride.
In the face of such cynicism, President Kim''s aides have claimed the appointments have been fair and just, presenting statistics that usually are not very persuasive. This conditioned reflex to deny the problem and to refuse to make an effort to fix it, has been fuelling the anger.
President Kim said last week at the Police Day ceremony that "there can be no room for doubt about my determination to make just and fair appointments" and emphatically added that "any wrongdoing, if found, will be immediately straightened up without reserve".
We believe President Kim understands as much as we do that a new system for appointing officials is the key to overcoming regional conflicts.
by Kim Seok-cheol