Kim's Remarks Raise SuspicionsDuring his New Year''s press conference, President Kim Dae-jung did not give satisfactory answers to many citizens who had high hopes for a political renewal measure to tackle the recent crisis and stabilize the political scene. Although he supported politics of mutual survival, he largely blamed the opposition for the current stalemate. He emphasized correct principles and the rule of law, but he failed to exhibit new leadership or generosity befitting the administration in power.
Throughout the Thursday press conference, President Kim stressed a strong government supported by democratic principles and rule of law. He vowed a dramatic improvement in personnel policy, but we need to watch whether he really means to rectify the practices he has so far employed, which is to heavily favor those from the southwestern region where he is from. With regard to North Korea policy, President Kim said that he would maintain close consultative relations with the incoming Bush administration and the Japanese government, and he emphasized that he would not provide economic aid to North Korea in the absence of the people''s consent. We would like to interpret that as the intention to adjust his current North Korea policy, which can be summed up as a "big giveaway," to a more rational direction.
He put the greatest emphasis on the issue of stabilizing the political scene, but his understanding of the situation proved utterly self-centered and unflinchingly hard-line. Although in principle he recognized a symbiotic, cooperative relationship between the ruling party and the opposition, he laid all responsibility on the opposition for holding anti-ruling party rallies outside the Assembly and refusing to cooperate on the floor. Then who drove the opposition to the dead end in the first place, bringing up old scandals, including tax evasions and a mock shootout at Panmunjom to influence the 1997 presidential election? As for the leasing of lawmakers, the ruling party claims that the New Korea Party, the forerunner of the Grand National Party, did it first. But wasn''t it the National Congress for New Politics, the predecessor of the Millennium Democratic Party, and the United Liberal Democrats that lured away 36 NKP lawmakers after the 15th general elections in 1995?
If the ruling party members claim that what they did was inevitable but it is illegal when the other side does the same thing, their words ring hollow. "Democratic principles" and "the rule of law" are mere invocations to coat their half-baked arguments with a shiny veneer.
What worries us most is President Kim''s view of the press. As he stressed the importance of fair reporting and the responsibilities of the media, he urged the press, academia, civic groups and the National Assembly to come up with measures to reform the press. If we dare to read between the lines, he seemed to say the press is engaged in reckless reporting and commentaries on today''s crisis. He should clarify what he meant by his remark, which could be construed as a threat to throw his weight behind the so-called press reform being promoted by certain civic groups. Theirs is an extremely narrow-minded, leftist-oriented minority voice insisting on the reorganization of the news companies'' ownership structure, rather than fair reporting or the guarantee of a free critical spirit. If President Kim''s words were meant to hide an ulterior motive to rely on populist tactics in a bid to block criticism aimed at the government and to gag the free press, we are compelled to ask what difference President Kim''s "strong government" has from the authoritarian regimes of the past?