[EDITORIALS]Kim Extends an Olive Branch

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[EDITORIALS]Kim Extends an Olive Branch

President Kim Dae-jung's speech celebrating August 15 Liberation Day, on the theme of "reform and reconciliation," mentioned problems in government affairs and the solutions to those problems. We are pleased that Mr. Kim laid out detailed plans for repairing the Korean economy after apologizing for deteriorating public well-being and that he proposed a meeting with Lee Hoi-chang, the leader of the opposition Grand National Party. Mr. Kim reiterated in the speech that the presence of U.S. forces was needed even after eventual reunification of the two Koreas. That statement was timely because, by confirming his policy, Mr. Kim effectively rebutted North Korea's recent demand, after a summit meeting in Moscow, for an end to the U.S. military presence here. Mr. Kim also expressed concern about strained relations between South Korea and Japan over the textbook issue but did not directly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to Japanese war dead. His statements reflect Mr. Kim's long-term and practical policy toward Japan.

But the speech did not satisfy us entirely in regard to reform of the government administration to settle ideological conflicts in our society, which were heated by the media tax probe. Mr. Kim did not directly assure us in the speech that he would overcome our society's deepening schism and lead us toward unification. Most Koreans are currently uneasy about the conflict between liberals and conservatives and among our social classes, similar to the conflict 56 years ago, immediately after the peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. In the current situation, even a person who sympathizes with reformists in principle but questions their methodology is denounced as an anti-reformist. The public hopes Mr. Kim will take the lead in resolving this confrontation. On Wednesday, 115 intellectuals issued a statement reflecting public opinion. They lamented that "the realities force us to be divided into two groups, friends and enemies," and urged that "in a democratic forum we should respect the differing opinions of others."

We regard Mr. Kim's proposal for a meeting with the opposition party leader as a step to prevent splits in national opinion. As Mr. Kim pointed out, public mistrust of the political sector has grown to the critical level. The public blames politicians for encouraging splits and conflicts in society based on differing interests while neglecting economic problems. The public believes that politicians are busy finding fault with each other's remarks rather than discussing urgent issues such as North Korea policy and media tax probe.

Mr. Kim admitted that as president, he is primarily responsible for the problems. He assured us that he would solve inter-Korean problems and economic difficulties in cooperation with the opposition party. We welcome that assurance. Without reconciliation between the ruling and opposition parties, the ruling party's economic policies will stall in the national Assembly. Without public support, the government's policies toward North Korea will weaken, and if it tries to reform by edict, it will alienate the public.

Lee Hoi-chang should accept Mr. Kim's proposal to meet. He is also responsible for the political unrest and public mistrust of the political sector because he leads the largest bloc in the Assembly. As Mr. Lee has already stressed the crisis in the economy and difficulties in public livelihood, what we need now is political cooperation to resolve those crises. The meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr, Lee could be a good beginning of politics for unity in our society.
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