[OUTLOOK]Far-Sighted Policies Can Overcome Woe

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[OUTLOOK]Far-Sighted Policies Can Overcome Woe

Watching the problems at Hynix Semiconductor, Koo Bon-moo, the chairman and CEO of the LG Group, may be heaving sighs of relief several times a day.

Mr. Koo, when he went to the Blue House on the afternoon of Jan. 6, 1999, told President Kim that he accepted the so called "big deal" - the pressure on him to hand over LG's semiconductor operations to the Hyundai Group. That night on his way home, a less-than-sober Mr. Koo told a JoongAng Ilbo reporter, "I gave up everything. I have nothing to say at this moment".

The story demonstrates the meaning of the saying, "Misfortune is fortune; fortune is misfortune." The world semiconductor industry, suffering seriously from oversupply, is now in a cutthroat survival games -- which company will be the first to collapse? If Hynix semiconductor, which has 11 trillion won ($8.5 billion) in debts, were an affiliate of LG, the whole group would be in trouble. Mr. Koo's misfortune was fortunate indeed.

President Kim' s "government of the people," and its coalition with Kim Jong-pil's United Liberal Democrats, which was broken by a no-confidence vote over Unification Minister Lim Dong-won's dismissal, have also had its share of fortune and misfortune.

Although the foreign exchange crisis in 1997 was surely a misfortune, it could have turned out to be fortunate for the economy. The crisis put the entire Korean people behind the "prepared president's" restructuring program. In fact, the restructuring was not a prepared reform program but "homework" assigned involuntarily by the International Monetary Fund. And the so-called "big deals," business swaps among conglomerates, were not even on the homework list.

But fortune came to an end when the president declared that economic crisis was over at the end of 1999. The fortune of the economy and the fortune of the administration also disappeared.

Looking back on the situation, the president's fortune carried the seeds of later misfortune. He was in a hurry to declare the crisis over, feeling fretful about the time remaining for reform. The five years of his administration was not enough to execute the reform program he had devised for the country, and then he had to divert his energy to solving the financial problems Korea encountered.

Having declared the crisis over, he swung into his reform program and again encountered fortune and misfortune. His summit in Pyongyang and the Nobel peace prize that followed was certainly good fortune, but the troubled medical reform program was not.

Now the Korean economy is in trouble again and the political cooperation between his Millennium Democratic Party and Kim Jong-pil's United Liberal Democrats has collapsed over North Korea issues.

Whether fortune or misfortune comes in the future depends on the choices we make now. The vote of no-confidence in Unification Minister Lim does not mean an end to the "sunshine policy" and a return to hostile relations between North and South. It is merely a sign that there are some problems in the methods and speed of that policy.

Looking at the problem from a different angle, this could be "history's brake" saying, "It may turn out to be a misfortune if President Kim, who alone among Korea's presidents succeeded in holding a North-South summit meeting, managed to achieve everything he attempted in his term." If President Kim Il-sung of North Korea had not suddenly died in 1994, just before an inter-Korean summit meeting with then-President Kim Young-sam, Korean history would be quite different.

The economy's future also depends on choices we make now. Economic issues have been shoved aside at the Blue House since the end of 1999. The president should put economic issues back on top of his agenda. The current economic difficulties are another chance for us to solve our problems. North-South relations and the economy are part of a far-sighted national policy. Though we cannot predict fortune and misfortune, we can change misfortune into fortune by our attitude. The Assembly's no-confidence vote on Mr. Lim could be fortunate for longer-term policy; our current economic hardships could be also.


The writer is chief editor of economic news of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil

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