[FORUM]Frogs, mice, fights and free trade

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[FORUM]Frogs, mice, fights and free trade

A mouse and a frog lived near each other. The frog was angry that the mouse always traveled farther than he and obtained more food. The frog wanted to get the mouse into trouble.
One day, the frog suggested to the mouse that they tie one of their feet together with a rope so that they could travel together. For a while, the two seemed to get along just fine. But when they got to a pond, the frog jumped into it. The mouse shouted that he could not swim. But the frog dove further into the water.
When the dead body of the mouse rose to the surface of the pond, an eagle came over and snatched it. While the frog went further into the water in an attempt to hide, the rope tying him and the mouse prevented him from doing so. He too was eventually eaten by the eagle.
There are three lessons to be learned from Aesop’s fable in regard to our current state of affairs.
First, if you attempt to get someone else in trouble, it will always come back to haunt you. During the past year, political parties acted like the frog in the fable and did everything at their disposal to drown their opponents.
Amid the talk of a referendum on Mr. Roh’s presidency, illegal campaign funds and scandals involving the president’s aides, the parties tried to destroy each other. As a result, the entire political community fell into a quagmire. The shameful figures should repent for their sins this year, but there are no signs of that yet.
The government and the ruling party are wagering everything on the legislative elections in April. Everyday, there appear new strategies to capture more seats in the National Assembly, such as linking the presidential confidence referendum with the elections or encouraging cabinet ministers and their deputies to run for Assembly seats. The opposition parties are fighting back, taking issue with the ideological leanings of supporters of the president.
The second lesson to be derived from the fable is related to the economy. If people who make up a community constantly fight and oppose one another, everyone will lose. While politics was in its sorry state of last year, the economy plunged further into trouble.
Politics and the economy are linked by an invisible rope. But the disputes and uncertainty in the political arena loom large, so the economy remained in a coma. The lesson is particularly meaningful to labor relations. Instead of dialogue and compromise, labor and management both tried to subjugate the other with sheer strength and struggle. The result is a lose-lose situation. The feisty labor movement and its illegal strikes weakened the competitiveness of Korean companies and forced them to move abroad. The number of jobs decreased.
Under such circumstances, foreign investments have dropped. Last year, foreigners invested more than $110 billion in China, but only invested $6.5 billion in Korea.
The third lesson is related to the free trade agreement with Chile that is currently being debated in Korea. We should see it from the mouse’s position. We must not regret it after making a careless agreement to tie our ankle to the frog’s.
The free trade accord with Chile may not bring about serious problems because enough preparations and countermeasures have been draw up. And yet, signing similar pacts with Japan or China would be a completely different story. We would never know if our partner would become a frog or an eagle. Even if we agree to let our ankle be tied, we must make sure that the length of the rope is enough to allow us to prepare for any catastrophe.
Until now, we have fought so many times. The two Koreas fought against each other after the Japanese colonial rule ended. South Koreans then fought each other, split between the east and the west. Today, we see continuous discord and conflicts among factions separated by class and ideology.
In this New Year, we should stop fighting and look at who is our real enemy and who is our real competitor. We must think deeply about whether there is an eagle flying above our heads, waiting for an unexpected opportunity.

* The writer is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.

by Ro Sung-tae
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