[INSIGHT]A small wonder needs leadershipWhat are our expectations and hopes as we congratulate President Roh Moo-hyun, who will lead the country for five years?
We hope President Roh is a president who often looks at the world map. This is not to emphasize the duty of the president to explore the future of Korea in the fast-changing international dynamics. It is to ask him to always keep in mind how perilous and insecure Korea’s geopolitical position is.
Focusing on the Asian continent in the world map, one perceives how exceptional and precarious it is that South Korea, the lower part of the Korean Peninsula at the eastern end of the continent, exists as it does now. The whole northern part of Asia is Russian land. The vast territory in the center of the continent is occupied by China. To the southeast, starting from the Indochina Peninsula, are the various countries of Southeast Asia. Protruding small to the northeast is the Korean Peninsula, of which South Korea only occupies half. Of course, it is not only the smallness of size that is the cause of instability for the Korean Peninsula. After coloring the socialist countries, including China, Vietnam and North Korea, in one color, it seems almost a miracle that South Korea, at the tip of the Korean Peninsula is painted in a different shade ― of democracy. It is uncertain whether South Korea can bear the weight and mighty force of the continent of socialist and former communist countries.
Our unchanging faith in freedom was what let us uphold and keep this democratic country of South Korea at such a precarious geopolitical location during the last half of the last century. Heaven also helped us. We also know that there were numerous sacrifices, blood and tears shed to make this possible. We should never forget that the U.S.-South Korea alliance had also provided a sturdy background.
Our harsh geopolitical status still keeps us tense today. The Korean Peninsula remains the last battleground of the Cold War and we are still divided in two. We cannot help holding many expectations and hopes about President Roh, who has taken over responsibility of leading the country through such difficult times.
During his visit to Seoul last year, Lee Kwan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, said that despite his country’s much-praised fast ascent to become an advanced country, he had never forgotten Singapore’s vulnerability as a small island located on the southern tip of Malaysia and just across a narrow strait from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
A nation’s very existence could depend on how accurately it perceives its geopolitical vulnerability. That is why we hope President Roh will look at the world map often and see where our country lies.
For a nation to rise in status through the raging waves of globalization, economic development is needed more than anything. It is the cold reality of international society that poorer countries have smaller voices. The pride we feel in our current status, symbolized by the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and the fourth-place finish in the 2002 World Cup, was the result of the industrialization we achieved through our sweat and toil. Unfortunately, we seem to still be struggling in the same economic situation for years now.
In 1995, our gross national product per person rose to $10,000 and our exports reached $100 billion. We became a member of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, the so-called “rich men’s club.” Eight years have passed and we are still meandering around the $10,000 line. During that time, we have gone through a terrible financial crisis. Our ungrounded self-confidence that we had finally escaped being a backward country and the loosening of self-restraint caused overconsumption. Yet, what held us back the most was the lack of a firm national goal and strategy and the paucity of any national agreement and resolution to support such a vision.
We hope that President Roh is a leader who can raise our gross national product per person from the $10,000 line to the $15,000 line and encourage us to strive for $20,000.
Strength will give us dignity and guard our country. Our people have been through all kinds of hardships together and we do not give up easily. We are only waiting for a leader to give us a sure vision and draw a national unity and cooperation. This is where our hope lies for President Roh.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo