[OUTLOOK]National crises are still lurkingA German newspaper editorial said of our government’s method of handling the recent truckers’ strike: “Korea is a country where loud voices get heard.”
“A good country to do business” was cynically paraphrased here as “a good country to do a strike,” and a headline, “Now is the eve of strikes in Korea” was on the front page of a domestic economic newspaper.
In the aftermath of the SARS outbreak, Korea could have enhanced its image over its competitors like China and Taiwan. It lost the chance, some say, because the government couldn’t respond to the opportunity promptly. Some global companies are sorry that Korea is losing its advantage over Chinese ports in better and safer transportation and unloading.
We can understand how President Roh may have been upset when he came back after solving urgent problems with the United States. Under no circumstances, however, should he have made such remarks as “I can’t do my job as president.” Isn’t the president the final coordinator among conflicting interests?
It is also unusual for the Financial Times to have addressed his remarks seriously; they could have been overlooked as gossip or minor complaints. But the situation in which the president himself worried about the possible paralysis of the government’s administrative functions and unhesitatingly abased himself could certainly have been a red light for our international credit standing.
In a column in the JoongAng Ilbo last month, I pointed out three sources of crises here: President Roh’s visit to the United States, the announcement of the results of the investigation of SK Global’s accounting irregularities and the reassessment of our national credit rating by Moody’s and other rating agencies. With practical diplomacy ― putting national interests first ― Mr. Roh managed to avoid a diplomatic disaster between South Korea and the United States, but the critical differences of opinion remain. The North Korean nuclear problem is ripe for sanctions, and there is no change in the plan to move U.S. forces in Korea south of the Han River. We are under heavier pressure due to the agreement at a ranch in Texas last Friday between the United States and Japan on “tougher measures” that go beyond mere “further steps” against North Korea. SK Global’s fraud brought discredit on the whole Korean corporate accounting system, and the government’s improper handling of the problem is drawing international interest.
Although the restoration of cooperative relations with the United States helped Korea escape a downgrade of its national credit rating, another assessment is scheduled next month.
The three factors for another crisis or crises are still as unsettling as they were before.
In this context, the issue of Roh government’s immaturity in administering national affairs has emerged. A series of strike warnings and illegal collective actions are mostly issues related to labor and government, not labor and management. Parties who insisted on their own positions were the main problem, but more seriously, the president brought misfortune on himself by talking too much, acting too hastily and at first siding with one party but then changing his stance.
The structure of conflict in our society is embedded, with conflicts between labor and management, an expanding gulf between the rich and the poor and conflicts between ideologies and generations. In order to make a society operate like a system that has a control manual, as President Roh wishes, he should establish a mechanism of social integration and leadership for that mechanism.
But with only a half-president supported only by people who share the same code, it is just lip service to claim that this is a “participatory government” that can bring about social change.
Populism is poisonous to social integration. Leadership for integration sometimes demands the courage to betray one’s supporters. The five years of the Kim Dae-jung administration, which instigated and fostered conflicts, offers a good lesson on this point. Discussions about national administration are not the way to solve problems. There should be a distinction between matters to be scheduled for discussion and matters to be decided by the president.
Next week is the 100th day of the Roh administration. The president should now stop his trial-and-error experiment and restructure his administrative system so that it can create a “Roh Moo-hyun effect” instead of a “Roh Moo-hyun shock.”
There have been no cases where a president succeeded in his job by appointing campaign aides as his secretaries and ministers. President Roh should keep in mind that the failure of government has more serious consequences than that of the market.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun