[OUTLOOK]Is anybody listening out there?

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[OUTLOOK]Is anybody listening out there?

In June, when our team advanced to the World Cup semifinals, we joked that we should vote for Guus Hiddink, the coach, for president. We praised Mr. Hiddink for raising the team's abilities through rejecting cliques on the team, for scientific training, competition among the players and an emphasis on rewarding players for their achievements. We attributed our semifinals miracle to his leadership and even proposed to naturalize him if that's what it would take to keep him leading the team.

How are we to understand this miracle of our soccer team? Several explanations are possible, but I in particular believe that our achievement was in the fact that we managed to break apart from our centuries-old tradition of excluding the outside world and finally opened our hearts to the world. If we had remained obsessed with our sintoburi philosophy, believing that we and our land are the same and so things native are the best for us, we would never have reached the heights that we did. Building up our team domestically would have taken too long.

But just as soon as June and its globalizing influence passed, we are already back to our old type of problems, this time over the appointment of Chang Sang as prime minister, and Korean society has apparently retreated back to its pre-modern sintoburi state in less than 10 days. We brought one of the best coaches in the world to train our team to become stronger, and gained confidence that we could stand up to and even beat the best teams in the world. But now our country is divided over the issue of the nationality of the acting prime minister's son, to the point that government administration has almost come to a halt. Mr. Hiddink would laugh.

To get to the point, the ruckus over the nationality of acting Prime Minister Chang's son has strayed too far away from the point. First of all, in Ms. Chang's case, her son is not guilty of any unethical or questionable deeds such as dodging the military draft, and Ms. Chang did not fly to the United States to give birth in order to give U.S. citizenship to her newborn.

She chose for her son, when he was 4 years old and for the purposes of medical treatment, to take on the U.S. citizenship he was entitled to because he was born there. Second is the criticism that Ms. Chang should not have included her son in her residential registration and made him a recipient of the national health insurance just because he had given up the Korean nationality. In the case of the national health insurance, even non-Koreans can receive those benefits so long as they pay for them. As in the case of other advanced countries, National Health Insu-rance is open to all residents, regardless of their nationality. There are just too many exaggerations in the criticism of her.

What should be the real issue here is the ability of Ms. Chang to lead the government as prime minister, but no one seems to be asking whether she has what it takes to overcome all the hardships that lie in wait for the country. This uproar makes it sound as if the citizenship of Ms. Chang's son is going to be the biggest obstacle in the performance of her duties as prime minister.

With globalization progressing at such a rapid pace, global competitiveness is as important in politics as in soccer. As long as the way Korean society questions issues does not change, we will never succeed. We must first question whether the acting prime minister is a person possessing sufficient leadership skills and what kind of experience and expertise she has. Whether her son's citizenship would pose a difficulty to her carrying out her duties should be addressed after the basic questions are answered.

Ever since the cabinet reshuffle was announced Thursday, the utter backwardness of our society's manner of posing questions has become all too apparent. Not the opposition party, not the media, not the people themselves -- no one has asked the right questions in the right order. Nor does anyone seem to care what relative importance the questions they raise have. The practice of making a big deal out of anything in order to gain political advantage is found over and over in our politics. It has again been proven in the past few days to be a manacle to our development.

I believe the only way we can enhance the international competitiveness of Korean society is to overcome our close-mindedness over the issue of nationality and to dare to apply in earnest such ideas as "Vote for Hiddink for president." Siono Nanami wrote in her book that, unlike the exclusiveness of Athens, Rome's open nationality system let anyone living in Rome become a Roman citizen. This, she said, was what allowed Rome to grow to become the center of a sprawling empire. Maybe we should listen to what she is saying.


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The writer is a professor of sociology at Hallym University.

by Seong Kyoung-ryung

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