[FOUNTAIN] Japan's Leadership Affects Us

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[FOUNTAIN] Japan's Leadership Affects Us

Failed politicians are prone to make frequent gaffes. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has signaled that he would step down 11 months after he took office. In his early days in office, he issued a solemn pronouncement, "Japan is indeed a divine nation with the emperor at its center," a remark which stirred more than a bit of controversy. Even if the remark reflected his convictions, it amounted to advertising his lack of historical understanding and international sensibilities. It may be useless to bring up the teachings of the wise for Mr. Mori at this point: "Handle business swiftly, but exercise caution when you speak."

Another characteristic of failed politicians is their avoidance of the press. At one point, Mr. Mori refused to talk to journalists, blaming them for distorting his intended remarks. A news report noted once that Mr. Mori's approval rating had dropped into the single digits, making his government one of the least popular in history. Mr. Mori retorted, "Many phone calls and letters come to my house, and most of them are to encourage me. Few offer critical remarks." His avoidance of the press is ingrained; answering a question in the Diet, he confessed, "I don't read newspapers. They make me tired." The proverbial camel can more easily pass through a needle's eye than a politician can be successful while ignoring press criticism.

Failed politicians share another characteristic: They are inexperienced in judging situations. After Prime Minister Mori heard the news on a golf course that a training ship for Japanese students sank in a collision with an American nuclear submarine, he continued with his round of golf. His ability to judge the situation was such that he aired his resentment: "What crisis management? Wasn't it an accident?" What about the time when he sent a fax message after the inter-Korean summit to North Korea's Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission, suggesting a summit meeting as if he could not wait?

The misfortune of a failed politician does not end as a personal misfortune. It may affect not only the citizens of his nation but also neighboring nations. The Japanese economy is in dire straits; there are even rumors of a looming crisis in March. Japanese politicians are hamstrung by their focus on short-term political gain, although they are fully aware that financial and political reforms are necessary. For ten years running, Japan has been in a futile vicious cycle of boosting the economy with borrowed government funds. Given the political and economic fallout that the Japanese crisis will bring to the Korean Peninsula and East Asia, we cannot afford to view it as a fire on the other side of the river. We hope for the emergence of a Japanese leader equipped with vision and historical awareness befitting the 21st century.

by Bae Myung-bok

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