[FORUM]Some pragmatic tolerance, please

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[FORUM]Some pragmatic tolerance, please

Korea has developed an infatuation with China. Koreans are impressed at the rapid progress and reform China has made and want to learn from China's experience. Kim Sang-hyeob, a former prime minister who died in February, 1995, anticipated such changes in China long ago. Mr. Kim, a leading political scientist, was a recognized authority on the ideas and strategies of Mao Zedong, and since the late 1970s had pondered whether China could develop rapidly under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

Mr. Kim was impressed by two things about Deng, the planner of China's reforms. The first was his pragmatic reform doctrine. Deng said, "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice." In 1992, he said it is important to make people live well regardless of whether it is under capitalism or communism.

The other point that impressed Mr. Kim about Deng was his tolerance. "Though Mao committed an important mistake in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, his meritorious services exceeded his faults in general," Deng said. The Cultural Revolution, an ideological disaster, caused tens of thousands of casualties during the 10 years it played out. Mr. Deng himself was savaged by Mao's Red Guards. Even so, Deng said Mao's merits exceeded his demerits. That was a sign of his comprehension of history in which both good and bad points exist, and his wisdom of reviewing the old and learning the new. Such attitudes contrast with Korean politics, which focus on breaking away from the past and taking political revenge.

Mr. Kim regarded those two things, pragmatism and tolerance, as the spurs for China's open-door policy and the momentum for its growth. Mr. Kim compared the pragmatic methods of reform to a "temporary coexistence of sheep and flies." He warned of ideologically driven reform, saying, "Australians do not spray insecticide on flies around sheep for fear of causing harm to the sheep."

"Our former presidents had many faults, but they managed the ship well in storms where visibility was zero," Mr. Kim said. He holds in high esteem the establishment of the Republic of Korea led by President Syngman Rhee, the economic development called the "Miracle on the Han," led by President Park Chung Hee and also praised President Chun Doo-hwan's single-term presidency. Mr. Kim's comments were very brave, coming as they did during the storm of reform and the political drive to draw a distinction between the military dictatorships and the civilian government led by Kim Young-sam.

We are reminded of Mr. Kim's comments even seven years after he died. The political attitude of our society is the opposite of China's, even though we are now eager to learn from China. The reforms of the Kim Dae-jung administration were confused due to conflicting ideologies. The medical reform tottered from the beginning because of the absurd idea that doctors are rich egoists. Educational reforms have also been swayed by ideology. The Kim administration's welfare reform lacks pragmatism about the actual welfare of the public.

The government's North Korea policy, called the sunshine policy, is also dominated by ideology and is far from being a pragmatic policy that pursue national benefits. Though things have changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government has no measures to handle the United States' hard-line attitude. There are only hostile voices against the United States, claiming that inter-Korean issues should be settled by the two Koreas only.

Reform doctrine without pragmatism will be led by self-righteousness, biased ideas and populism. Society will suffer ideological collisions and antagonism. Rather than accepting history, politicians are busy digging up dirt and splits in our society. Most people are tired of reform because of the excessive ideological content in them. Our lower-income people are suffering added hardships in getting medical treatment and educating their children. The real situation is far from the administration's aim of protecting the weak. The leadership should shift the focus of reform from ideology to efficiency, even this late in its tenure. A change in attitude on North Korean policy would also help heal the wounds that policy has opened.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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