[VIEWPOINT] 21st century leadership abilities

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[VIEWPOINT] 21st century leadership abilities

Given the abundance of local issues, turning our attention overseas is not easy. But in about 90 days an important change in post-war Asian history is expected, one that also seems to hold significant meaning for Korea’s political destiny. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has led the industrialization of the country for the last 22 years, is expected to step down, and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will take the reins of government as the next prime minister. Mr. Mahathir’s voluntary retirement can be seen as important news in itself, but the more significant aspect is that now all the leaders who fostered the industrialization of Asia are out of office or have become figures in history.
Park Chung Hee of South Korea, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan, Suharto of Indonesia, Deng Xiaoping of China, and Mr. Mahathir of Malaysia are the originators of “Asian-style leadership” or the “Asian-style political model.” Judgments of these leaders vary. But, without exception, they led the industrialization of their countries by enforcing a single political system rather than a competitive model, and spurred national development through charisma rather than democratization. Thus, while they were the leaders who created the prospect of the Asia-Pacific era of the 21st century, they also were criticized for emphasizing “Asian values” rather than universal values such as democracy, thereby delaying the democratization of their countries.
Looking ahead toward the mid-21st century, we have no other choice but to ponder now the issue of what type of leader Asia will require. The clear fact is that if leaders are produced by the same method as in the past, Asia’s ability to solve the various issues it faces will be limited. For the last two or three decades, many Asian countries have emphasized economic development. As a result, for the first time in Asian history, these countries have come to possess political, economic, technical and military capabilities similar to those of major Western countries, and some of those capabilities have even surpassed those of the West.
In other words, if the first-generation leaders of Asia can be said to have cultivated overall power, then the second-generation leaders like Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Kim Young-sam of South Korea, and Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan, taking their long struggle for democratization as an opportunity, can be said to have established the foundation of civilian control, democratization, openness and globalization.
We must think about what kinds of values, world view and racial views the third-generation leaders of Asia should possess and what type of leadership is desirable. Simply speaking, the major variables for the next generation of Asian leaders can be described as firm democratic values, comprehension and broad support for a market economy, technocratic experience and an open-style racial view. The next generation of leaders, including Korea’s, will encounter an era of unprecedented competition. So they should exercise a “chief executive officer style” of political leadership, with the ability to harmonize and manage economic, political, security, technological and educational elements.
Of course, a leadership equipped only with business knowledge is never desirable. In the case of Thailand’s politics, for example, many Thais are concerned about a leadership that seems to lack a belief in democracy.
The CEO-style leader, most of all, has to combine the courage to refrain from demagogic populism, such as that evidenced by the Hugo Chavez administration in Venezuela, with the ability to develop and practice predictable policies on the basis of varied information and knowledge. Moreover, a leader like British Prime Minister Tony Blair is needed who already possesses, or has the capacity to develop, open thought and international networks that can naturally lead economic and security diplomacy.
In forecasting the next generation of Asian countries that can enter the G-8 group of advanced nations, Korea still seems to have a possibility, but there are nagging thoughts that Korea is becoming more and more distant from the first group of candidates.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Chung-min
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