[OUTLOOK]Today’s realities, future dramasWatching the proliferation of strikes day by day, the cooling relations between North and South Korea due to the North Korean nuclear crisis and the hopeless party politics, it seems very hard for us to prepare for the future.
The Joseon Dynasty may also have had difficulty in many aspects of planning for the future in the chaotic domestic and international situation a century ago. But historical facts show that decisions made at the turn of the 20th century changed the destiny of the Korean people, and entering the early 21st century, there is a growing possibility that the destiny of Korean people may be changed once again.
For the past half a century, we have continuously made progress in the waves of industrialization, democratization, self-defense, information era and globalization. Our remaining task is to lay the foundation for open nationalism and freedom all Korean people can enjoy. Indeed, our essential code is none other than a freedom policy. In particular, the task of all Korean people is to design a new “house for Korea” on the basis of freedom and democracy for the first time in its 2000-year history.
In retrospect, the Joseon Dynasty failed to realize the task of the age called for “building a wealthy country with strong military power.” In other words, the Joseon Dynasty did not precisely understand the “hard power” based on industrial development, modernized military forces and cold-hearted diplomatic strength. Now, after a century, we have entered into desperate competition to improve our “soft power,” whose main points are the spread of universal human values to survive in the international community in the 21st century; the enhancement of our quality of life through the genetic and information revolutions and the adoption of an education system that promotes imagination. The power required by the 21st century is a hybrid power that combines the existing hard power and soft power. Therefore, the status of the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century will depend on how successfully we can accumulate and use this new type of power.
In this respect, I see harmony between deep-rooted liberalism and open nationalism as critical variables that can affect the positioning of the Korean Peninsula in 100 years or even 200 or 300 years. But in fact, the concept of liberty has been ignored in discussions about reunification because of the overriding proposition of peaceful national reunification. For example, it is still held that criticizing North Korea’s authoritarian regime objectively is unacceptable to national sentiment or to North-South reconciliation. But on the other hand, the government and intellectuals increasingly think that we can no longer overlook the North Korean reality, including its unprecedented autocracy, human rights infringements and North Koreans’ ceaseless sufferings. Therefore, it is our historical task to deal with the reunification issue based on universal human values.
Historical dramas entitled “The Era of the Two Koreas” ― about North and South Korea ― might be very popular in the 23rd and 24th centuries. Just as television producers of the 21st century observe the Joseon and Goryo dynasties from various angles, TV producers of the 23rd and 24th centuries will revisit the era of the two Koreas and there will be renewed discussion in academic circles. I expect that they will assess the reasons for South Korea’s ultimate victory in the fierce competition between the two Koreas and say, “South Korea won not because of threats and dictatorship but because of the protection of liberal democracy and universal human values and the spread of these values across the Korean Peninsula.”
Due to these reasons, before we try to design the future of the Korean Peninsula for the next 100 years, we first have to make our ordinary but precious hopes a concrete reality so that we can enjoy freedom throughout the Korean Peninsula.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Chung-min