Optimism, great pride fill Koreans in new year

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Optimism, great pride fill Koreans in new year

Years ago, it used to be not-so-chic for Koreans to be Korean. The ruling mind-set was to be more like "developed countries." In fact, one TV commercial from the early 1990s showed brief interviews with several Japanese citizens, teaching Koreans that frugality is key to wealth.

These days, however, people are proud to be Korean. The media showers people with the message that their country is beautiful and how happy they should be to be who they are. Last year was the turning point, with the World Cup and the Presidential election. This year is all the more significant, everyone says, because it's the first year for the young President-elect Roh Moo-hyun to take office. What do Koreans now feel and hope for themselves and their country? Find out in the JoongAng Ilbo's recent survey of 1,000 adult Koreans.

The survey was conducted by telephone phone by the JoongAng Ilbo staff from Dec. 26 to 30.

The book on Roh: Great Expectations

A public opinion poll conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo at the beginning of this year reveals that there are a couple of things that the people have on their wish list for President-elect Rho Moo-hyun to take care of.

On the financial front, 28.7 percent chose the lack of economic growth as a major concern. Closely following that worry are political issues, with 23.1 percent expressing apprehension about the constant threat of the North Korean nuclear program, particularly the risks it poses to foreign investment.

While many presidential candidates are eager to make any promise to get elected, then promptly forget those promises once in office, 56.4 percent of those surveyed believe scrapping unrealistic promises is the way to go. One such promise in particular seemed ripe for being forgotten -- Mr. Roh's pledge to move the national government to the Chungcheong region. Even some of Rho's supporters were against that idea, but surprisingly the survey revealed that 56.9 percent agree to the move, while only 39.5 percent oppose it. Even in Seoul, only 50.8 percent are against the move, with 46.2 percent agreeing. People in the Chungcheong area, naturally, think that moving the capital is a, er, capital idea, with 82.4 percent supporting.

Expectations for the newly elected president seem high, with 88.6 percent expecting him to do a good job and only 6.7 percent expecting to see him fail. Under the constitution, the president of Korea is restricted to one five-year term, but Rho hinted that he might consider making an amendment, to change the presidency to a maximum of two four-year terms.

As for outgoing President Kim Dae-jung, between his sons' scandals and the nuclear threat caused by the North despite the sunshine policy, 56.2 percent think that he will be remembered as a failed president, while just 33.1 percent think otherwise.

It seems that Roh Moo-hyun's move to separate himself from the current administration has paid off. Only 16.8 percent thought that the newly elected government is an extension of the current one, while 83.2 percent viewed Roh Moo-hyun's government as a new start in politics in Korea.

North relationship is leaning south

With the ongoing nuclear threat of North Korea, the Joong-Ang Ilbo conducted a survey on the South and North Korea relationship.

Despite the relatively low success of the sunshine policy, considering that the North has been developing its nuclear program all along, 67.8 percent of those surveyed believe that the sunshine policy should be continued, while only 31.4 percent think negatively of it. Nevertheless, a sizeable portion, 39.4 percent, think that aid to the North should be halted.

As the relationship with the North deteriorates, expectations for a visit by Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and a second conference between the leaders of both sides are similarly declining. Nearly two-thirds believe that a visit by the North Korean leader is not going to happen within the next couple of years. Only 26.1 percent replied that the North would collapse or be unified with the South. Many people, 46.5 percent, believe that both Koreas will continue to built a relationship based on cooperation and reconciliation.

Wanting to swing the votes of young males who have to serve 26 months in the military, many candidates promised to reduce the service period. Nevertheless, 44.6 percent think that the service period should stay the same. Only 3 percent think that the service period should be lengthened.

In light of the recent demonstrations protesting the death of two middle school students and the following acquittal of the involved United States Army personnel, 78.5 percent felt the Status of Forces Agreement should be changed to give Korea jurisdiction for each case, while only 20.1 percent think changes should occur within the existing agreements.

Forward, with hand on back pocket

Now, just before the new government of Mr. Roh takes over, Koreans are not too hopeful about the economy -- 31.1 percent said it's going to get worse than last year, while 22 percent said it's going to be better. The biggest position, 45.7 percent, expected that there would not be any big changes. Those in their 40s and those who run their own businesses especially held a grim outlook for the new year's economy -- 44 percent of those in their 40s and 42.7 percent of private business owners contributed their voices to the pessimism.

When it comes to employer-employee relations, however, Koreans are pretty optimistic --?4.5 percent of all interviewees said they expect it to run smoothly, while 32.8 said the opposite. As for Mr. Roh's policy to stimulate a 7 percent economic growth, 54.8 percent said it's possible while 42.8 said it's not. The less educated the interviewees were, the more hopeful their responses on the question of economic growth -- positive responses were given by 52.4 percent of those who hold bachelor's degrees, 54.8 from high school graduates and 61.3 from middle school graduates.

On opening the domestic market more widely for a new round of negotiations, 70.1 percent said it should be done gradually in order to reduce market shock, while 20 percent said the market should be opened almost instantly. Only 7.5 percent said the government should do anything to stop the opening altogether. Most of the white-collar class, 84.3 percent, agreed on a step-by-step opening of the market, while farmers and fishermen represented a relatively higher ratio of those against the opening.

When it comes to conglomerates, opinions were split almost down the middle -- 49.3 percent spoke highly of them while 47.5 held negative views. One thing that 90.5 percent of those polled voiced in accord was concern about the unemployment problem. On top of that, 93.3 percent of interviewees said the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. Another near-unanimous result was on the question of taxes -- 85.7 percent said the government is being unfair in its tax levying, while only 12.7 percent saw the government's actions as fair.

Put down that butt, get off that butt

An old Korean saying goes that any new resolution holds good for only three days at most. Quitting smoking, historically a die-hard New Year's resolution, was the No. 1 pledge for males, coming in at 64 percent. Asked if they smoke, 48.6 percent of Korean men over age 20 said yes. Asked if they have tried to quit smoking, 40.3 percent of male smokers said yes.

The next most popular resolution, especially for women, is getting into shape by going on a diet. Over half the women surveyed, 52.7 percent, say they want to lose weight, compared to only 27.6 percent of men.

Other wishes for the New Year include improving one's health (52.8 percent), prosperity for business and promotions at work (17.8), happiness at home (6.9 percent), getting a job (4.2 percent) and entering a university (3.1 percent).

At the moment, 85 percent of Koreans say they are happy. On the contrary, 14.6 percent think they are unfortunate, but that number jumps to 24.8 percent for those in their 50s and up, and to 32.4 percent for those who come from lower income groups earning less than 1 million won ($830) a month.

No matter how unfortunate they think they are, 45.3 percent of all interviewees say they want to live until their 70s -- 35.6 percent hope to make it to their 60s, 8.8 to their 80s, 2.2 to their 90s. Only 5 percent want to die before their 60s.

Asked to evaluate the young generation, 53.7 percent of all interviewees say they think highly of the consciousness and activities of young people. Only those who are over 50 hold a more negative view of the young generation, with negative views (48.5 percent) outweighing positive ones (43.5 percent). Those in their 50s and older also believe young people to be too liberated when it comes to sex -- 61.5 percent say that young people could use a lesson in how to behave appropriately in terms of sexuality. On the contrary, 55 percent of those in their 20s do not see it as so problematic, and 12.5 percent say young people should in fact be more liberal.

On living together before marriage, 56.6 percent of people in their 20s and 30s, and 38.7 percent of those in their 40s say that it is acceptable.

Workweek is a gradual labor of love

Labor conditions have long been on the minds of Koreans. Almost 35 percent said the general rule of "same hours, same wage," should be applied, whereas 30.3 percent said the conditions should be left for a company to decide. Changing contingent positions to permanent ones was approved by 17.8 percent of those surveyed.

Among those who agreed on the application of the "same hours, same wage" rule, 50.4 percent were white-collar workers while 48.8 percent of those who agreed that the company should make the call were business owners.

On another key issue from last year, admission-via-donation at universities, most people remained lukewarm -- 44 percent said the system should be accepted, but only gradually, while 16.6 percent said it should be applied and 36.6 percent said it should not be accepted at all.

Currently, the only possible way to get into a university is through study, and the burden falls on the parents to obtain private tutoring for their children. It is no wonder, then, that 49.2 percent of all interviewees said they have a hard time budgeting private tutoring expenses.

When it comes to working five days a week, 59.6 percent agreed with the government's plan to introduce this policy gradually in the next eight years.

This year, the government plans to introduce an experimental five-day class schedule for students. For Korean students and their parents, constantly under pressure to prepare for the country's college examinations, the plan seems to be appealing, as it provides the students some much-needed freedom from their studies. 61.8 percent agreed to the plan while 37.7 percent were against it.

While there has been a proposal to drop the current registration system that forbids women to be registered as heads of households, the opinion on the matter seemed to be streamlined into varying schools of thought. More than 32 percent of the respondents opted to maintain the current system with only minor changes, while 21.2 percent thought the system should be scrapped.

by Ahn Boo-keun

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