[OUTLOOK] 2 causes for satisfaction in Korea

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[OUTLOOK] 2 causes for satisfaction in Korea

June is here again, regardless of the turmoil our country has been going through. The older generation can’t help but recall the ghastly memories of the Korean War that begun on a June 25 morning, and the middle-aged remember June 1987, when the fight for democracy reached its peak. Young people will remember the thrill they felt hearing the roar of “Daehanminguk” and “Oh, pilseung Korea” that rang throughout the country around this time last year.
Not only the younger generation, but the entire population will not likely forget the excitement and emotion of the World Cup. To Koreans, it was a shared experience that is always to be cherished and rejoiced over.
It adds to the significance of the coming Korea-Japan summit meeting that it is to be held in the week of the first anniversary commemorating last year’s World Cup, which was co-hosted by the two countries and was one of the most successful World Cups in history.
On May 31, 1996, right before the final announcement of who would host the 2002 World Cup, the international soccer governing body, FIFA, proposed to us that Korea and Japan should be co-hosts. We did not hesitate in saying yes, not because of calculations over who would win and lose but because of a dream and determination that we could use the opportunity of hosting the first World Cup of the 21st century to transcend the unfortunate history of the 20th century between ourselves and Japan, and to become such neighbors that the world would envy. The success of the Korea-Japan World Cup was beyond expectations and proved that ours was a possible dream.
Among Asian countries, Korea and Japan are clearly practicing the principles of democracy and market economy. Even without referring to the belief that “democratic countries do not go to war against one another,” we should remember on this occasion that the two countries are working toward the formation of a regional community in Asia based on the progress of their societies.
The rapid progress of the European Union, too, was fundamentally possible from the fact that it was a democratic community. We must avoid making the mistake of underestimating the importance of the solidarity among democratic countries in our eagerness to pursue the globalization and the regionalization of the market.
The politics of a democratic country sometimes shifts to the conservative and sometimes to the progressive, depending on the periodic background, national tendency and election results. It is rare to find a case like Japanese politics, which has kept a conservative color consistently through time. Japan is turning even more to the right these days. This can be explained by the Japanese society’s deep-rooted conservatism, but the immediate cause of the shift toward the right is no doubt the fear of North Korea’s nuclear program. That program will be an important issue in this summit meeting between Japan and Korea.
Our government’s position is clear. It absolutely will not tolerate North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, and will try together with the international society, using all methods possible, to persuade and pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. However, we will try until the end to solve this problem in a peaceful, nonmilitary way, and we believe that the overwhelmingly superior power of South Korea and its allies is sufficient to bring this about.
What we must now do is to affirm our common strategies with the United States and with Japan and secure the participation of international society. In this context, the recent Korea-U.S. summit meeting was successful, and favorable results are also expected from this week’s Korea-Japan summit meeting.
No matter how chaotic the domestic political situation is right now, there is no need to speak disparagingly about the diplomatic activities of the president who represents the country. Such pointless arguments on the president’s style of diplomacy, that he should have been bolder, that he was too modest or even crow-eating, should stop. Even without having to remind ourselves that we are the 12th-biggest economy in the world, that we achieved a successful transition to democracy and that we rose to the semi-finals of the World Cup by uniting our dreams, it is time that we free our minds from the inferiority complex that has now become almost a personality to us. It would be the right attitude for Koreans today to feel comfortable and glad that the world’s only superpower, the United States, is our oldest ally and that the world’s second-biggest economy, Japan, is our closest neighbor.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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