[VIEWPOINT]Make Leadership Meetings Productive

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[VIEWPOINT]Make Leadership Meetings Productive

The first meeting in a year between President Kim Dae-jung and the opposition Grand National Party President Lee Hoi-chang, held on Oct. 9, ended without substantive results except for counter-terrorist measures. I wonder why the parties ignored political courtesy to hold the meeting, even though it was not substantive, on the same day the United Liberal Democrats - another opposition party and a former coalition partner of President Kim's Millennium Democratic Party - convened a general meeting.

In Korea, what is agreed in those summit meetings usually has a large political impact - so much so that some persons want that kind of summit meeting to be abolished. They say that using the meetings to solve political conflicts turns what should be public political parties into private fiefdoms. Economic problems we face, such as decreasing exports and increasing unemployment, are serious. But even during such crises, our political leaders - in or out of power - waste precious time in endless scandal exposes and attacks. A summit meeting based on honesty and sincerity can be a way to change the current political confrontation into politics that can overcome our economic problems.

Almost all political problems of our country after President Kim's inauguration originated from the distrust and hostility between President Kim and Lee Hoi-chang of the GNP. The lack of trust between the two leaders has caused endless political conflicts and had bad effects on the general public, which is another national misfortune.

President Kim is now in a situation where his "Sunshine Policy" - one of his shining accomplishments, he thinks, is facing a crisis because of the U.S. war on terror, which makes a visit to Seoul by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, more difficult. While the economic situation worsens and close aides' corruption is disclosed case by case, the president's public support is declining. His party's defeat in last month's elections and the lack of internal MDP unity makes his position more difficult.

Now President Kim, already dubbed a lame duck, must understand that he cannot do anything without help from Lee Hoi-chang. After his party's landslide victory in the recent elections, Mr. Lee's position as a leading candidate in the next presidential election is secure, as seen in many opinion polls. So if Mr. Lee and the GNP help the president pull the economy out of its slump and stabilize the political situation, it will not be a political threat to Mr. Lee's presidential ambitions. On the other hand, if Mr. Lee is elected president because of popular revulsion with Kim Dae-jung's inability to manage the economy and to administer the government, he will be the most unfortunate president in Korean history. His tenure will be marked by economic woes and social conflict. As the president of the majority party, Mr. Lee should unfold "politics for the people," cooperating with President Kim. By doing so he can turn anti-DJ sentiment of the people into political force in support of him.

Fortunately, we have about six months before the next elections in June; there is time to begin such cooperative politics. The two leaders should meet again soon to change the six-month period into one of economic recovery. The meeting should have a new format that stresses substance, not style and formalities.

Here are some ideas for a successful summit meeting.

First, it should be natural and free from formalities. The two men should break down the deep distrust between them by, for example, meeting at Chongnamdae, the presidential retreat near Daejon, for three days or so, wearing casual clothes. We recall the meeting of former U.S. President George Bush and the then Soviet Union's President Mikhail Gorbachev where they established the foundation for the end of the Cold War and for German unification.

Second, the meeting should have an agenda limited to plans to revive the economy and to keep politics from interfering with economic recovery. A joint economic policy consultation council should be convened, under the chair of the two leaders, to produce specific economic recovery measures. Such a meeting, in an informal setting and with clearly defined goals, could result in great changes in our politics and save our economy.


The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University.

by Hahm Sung-deuk

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