Criticism of Mr. Kim Misses the Mark

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Criticism of Mr. Kim Misses the Mark

Before President Kim Dae jung came to power, his supporters blacklisted me as one of his bitter critics, because I said he was obsessed with the ambition of becoming president, a i侯presiden tial disease patient.l, I have no objections to this blacklisting, because it is true that I have been critical of Mr. Kim. But even I find problems with the media™s recent attacks on the president. Chinese philosopher Chuang tzu said that there are ethics even for thieves to follow. If so, it goes without saying that the same applies to writers. I follow some basic principles. First, I do not extol the persons in power and nextterm presidential hopefuls. I keep my distance from sycophants, political mouthpieces and powerseekers. Second, I do not assail persons no longer in power; I find nothing more despicable than a pack of hyenas tearing into a toothless and declawed lion.

The tricky part is dealing with the persons falling in between these two categories. When the president begins to lose power and becomes a lame duck, politics and government administration can flounder, pitching the nation into confusion. This is because all the power is concentrated in the presi dent alone in Korea, which cer tainly is not a desirable state, but which cannot be remedied overnight. I find it hard to understand why all the influential newspapers are simultaneously raining blows on Mr. Kim these days. I am not tak ing issue with their criticisms of his policy errors, if they are severe but fair. I know how deep the dis content runs over his biased per sonnel appointments favoring per sons from the Cholla provinces, his home region, and how the pub lic is agitated over the deteriorat ing economy. But the public also expects the press to clearly distin guish between routine political reality and great turning points in national history.

The Korean people are broad minded enough to put up with a certain degree of biased personnel appointments, if they vindicate the agesold grievances of the people of Cholla, who suffered from dis crimination under all past adminis trations. There is also no need to despair at the economic problems, since the economy will improve. Compared with these two issues, establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula by joining hands with the North and reforming the economic structure to consolidate a framework for sustained pros perity are matters on an entirely different level.

I cannot contain my disap pointment at the media™s strange sense of reality, as they seem bent on browbeating Mr. Kim at this critical point in time when we have to help him accomplish great feats during the short remainder of his presidential term. The tide of NorthSouth reconciliation, which began with the world™s attention and support, will pick up momen tum despite opposition and criti cism. I know there are forces try ing to turn back this tide of rap prochement, but they, together with the forces in North Korea try ing to communize the South, will ultimately join in the great flow towards national harmony. But the future of economic reform still remains shaky; the key reason is that the labor reform has yet to result in a flexible labor mar ket, which is at the core of eco nomic reform. I will get straight to the point: unless the labor sector accepts greater sacrifice and gives up some of the political power it has won, the dark clouds hanging over the future of the Korean econ omy will not be cleared.

After the collapse of commu nism, the only viable alternative to capitalism appeared to be social democracy, the basis of West Germany™s economic develop ment. But this economic model is effective only on the conditions of a highly developed strong eco nomic power, a mature political consciousness and responsible ethics of the labor sector. Korea™s reality has far to go before it can meet these conditions. In Korea™s reality, its only alternative is to completely disarm the organized labor sector of its political power, as in the United States and Britain, to place the pri ority on maximizing corporate profits. But it is difficult for Korea to do so, because Mr. Kim™s polit ical power basically comes from labor™s support.

The more Mr. Kim comes under concerted attack from the opposition and the press, the harder time he will have restructuring the economy. True, the press sporadically publishes articles critical of labor disputes, but they ring hollow. The only solution is for Mr. Kim to convince the workers, whom he has championed for 40 years, that suffering losses for now and con ceding defeat will give them victo ry in the end. But he has no chance of doing so, as long as the press remains critical of his efforts.

Elite bureaucrats with their eyes on the next presidency believe they will succeed where Mr. Kim failed. But I believe they will be incapable of persuading the workers, and the nation will fall into chaos with Molotov cocktails flying around again if Mr. Kim fails to convince workers that they must accept layoffs and job losses as a part of economic advance ment. I also hope for the press to tell me that I am wrong and that my worries are groundless.

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