[NOTEBOOK]A midsummer night's dreamStory No. 1: On Feb. 25, 2003, the new president, Lee Hoi-chang, was making his inauguration speech in front of the main building of the National Assembly. The lawmakers and foreign diplomats in Korea who had been waiting for the end of the inauguration ceremony, shivering in the cold of late winter, suddenly doubted their ears. Mr. Lee was saying, "...the sunshine policy toward North Korea pursued by former President Kim Dae-jung was the right choice basically...here I promise the Korean people that I will take over and carry on the policy to tolerate North Korea..."
Mr. Lee continued, "I regret much that the national defense white paper was not issued last year due to the controversy over whether to refer to North Korea as the main enemy...if the Korean people and the National Assembly agree, I will remove the expression 'main enemy' from the national defense white paper."
After saying this, Mr. Lee picked up a water glass in front of him and drank as if he were quite thirsty while surveying the audience. For a moment, silence and a tense atmosphere dominated the audience, but then clapping was heard from one corner. Then all the guests of the ceremony stood up and clapped their hands. Some lawmakers of the Grand National Party looked uneasy at first, but they joined the applause, overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the audience. Mr. Lee said to himself, "I have been engaged in politics for over seven years, but I have never received such sincere support and applause before."
Story No. 2: On a day in early May in 2003, when less than three months had passed since the new administration came into office, staff members in the office of the senior presidential press secretary had to stay up all night preparing for a sudden press conference the president had called for the next day.
At that time, the violent demonstrations by labor unions were persisting on the streets and the nation's economic condition was deteriorating.
There was a rumor that President Roh Moo-hyun had not been able to sleep for the past few days.
The next morning, President Roh came into the press room with a stern and tired look. His usual smile was nowhere to be seen. Before the start of the press conference, the Blue House spokesman said, "This conference will deal with only labor and economic issues. Accordingly, you journalists, please ask about only those issues."
Mr. Roh stood on the platform and spoke before taking questions from the press. "The trade unions' illegal and violent demonstrations are bringing about sacrifices by the police and are threatening the government's authority...I have judged that I should not neglect such a situation any longer, so here I tell you that I will take strong measures against violent demonstrations according to the law."
Mr. Roh said in a resolute tone, "Freedom, democracy and the market economy are the basic philosophy of our country. Private property should be protected....I promise you that I will carry out the privatization of the railroad and electric power generation businesses."
The journalists in the press room, the businessmen and the members of the opposition parties who were watching the press conference on television were surprised. The next day, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy announced follow-up measures.
The vignettes above are only a "midsummer night's dream" at present. Neither of the presidential candidates shows signs of changing his way of thinking. But we should remember that it was Richard M. Nixon, not any other U.S. president, who opened the bamboo curtain of China through "ping-pong diplomacy."
Because Mr. Nixon was a Republican and a well-known conservative politician, it was easier for him to press the opposition in the United States for the improvement of the country's relations with China.
If Mr. Lee adopts a policy to tolerate North Korea or if Mr. Roh, who used to say, "Food is more important than the law," stresses the importance of law, the social cost caused by the split in public opinion will be sharply cut.
The writer is political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo