[INSIGHT]Socialist flirtation is damagingIt has been 20 years since China began to experiment with capitalism in its authoritarian socialist system. North Korea is ignoring that experiment. In the South, President Kim Dae-jung is experimenting with socialism in the framework of capitalism.
In China, the intention of reforms is to introduce principles of capitalism, but in the South "reform" refers to the opposite. China still preserves its long-time tradition of authoritarianism. Korea's authoritarianism has changed into democracy, at least on the surface.
The first president to espouse socialist policies was Kim Young-sam, who told Koreans that he would "give pain to those who have." He may not have been aware that his announcement was in the same vein as typical socialist authoritarian pronouncements. His words may have been aimed at pandering to voters who demanded greater social equality. That is, he may have used his words as a political ploy to boost his popularity.
President Kim Dae-jung may have had more of an ideological motive in embracing socialistic policies; his views on welfare policies and economics, refined over decades, suggest that is the case. Some intellectuals assert that Mr. Kim is not a socialist because the gap between the rich and the poor has increased during his term, but it probably means only that he is not a very competent socialist.
The distinction between the rich and the poor has become greater because many middle class people have lost their jobs during President Kim's tenure. The drop in corporate investment and production after the region was hit by the Asian financial crisis in 1997 contributed to the decline. The situation only proved that equality among people, as socialists advocate, is not adequate to prevent or overcome mass job loss.
If the Kim Dae-jung administration had tried to solve the dire economic problems with a more capitalistic approach, the unemployment rate would have dropped faster and kept the gap between the rich and the poor from becoming wider. In other words, the widening social chasm in our society has been exacerbated by socialist thinking, and could have been minimized or prevented with a more market-oriented approach.
To date, China's experiment with capitalism seems to have been successful, but many experts believe that unless China changes its state ideology from authoritarianism to democracy and from socialism to market economics, it is unlikely that the nation can progress further.
By contrast, South Korea's experiment with the introduction of socialism has already failed despite its recent launch. Reforms have only served to spread corruption. The ills of socialist reforms are that they discourage corporations from expanding investment. Some experts have said that the Korean economy would retrogress 20 years if it were managed by another president who would experiment with the introduction of socialistic policies for the next five years.
The Korean Peninsula is surrounded by three seas and only a small portion of its border faces China. But throughout history, the Korean Peninsula has been heavily influenced by China in the economy, the military and in culture.
When China declined after being attacked by Japan, China lost its influence on the peninsula and Korea was annexed to Japan. Later, the division of the peninsula was due to the Cold War. But a new conflict between North Korea, which holds socialist and authoritarian notions and the South, which pursues a market economy and democracy, is continuing to divide the peninsula.
The important thing is that while the South tries to create a mood of rapprochement between the two Koreas, the North harbors a hatred of the South. North Korea still calls for the "liberation of the South." It has been a long time since any talk of a "northward invasion" has been heard here.
China's experiment to introduce a market economy is a truly great attempt to distance itself from its traditional ways. It will probably face tremendous difficulties, but someday it will shed its authoritarianism and introduce democracy. It is notable that Taoism, the Chinese mystical philosophy that teaches moderation and simplicity and served as a strong alternative to authoritarianism throughout the history of China, is more democratic and liberal than any other ideology.
South Korea has the benefit of capitalism and democracy. South Koreans will soon end their unstable experiment with socialism.
The North's extreme authoritarianism and socialism is also not likely to last long, so the Korean Peninsula may face a brighter future.
The writer is the editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.
by Kang Wee-seuk