[OUTLOOK]Time for a dialogueThe epicenter of the Korean political system has shifted relatively toward the left from its inclination to the right in the past. The change is the result of the National Assembly elections on April 15. A conservative political force, the United Liberal Democrats, was nearly wiped out, and a radical left-wing party, the Democratic Labor Party, became the third largest entity in the legislature, with ten seats in the Assembly.
On top of that, Our Open Party took the majority and became the first progressive ruling party in the political history of Korea. The Grand National Party, a conservative and the biggest opposition party, produced younger and more liberal lawmakers compared to those in the 16th National Assembly. The overall shift toward the left is undeniable.
About the relative inclination toward the left, some evaluate it as a positive change, while others remain skeptical. But one undeniable fact is that the emergence of the left and progressive forces in Korean politics coincide with the pattern of political development displayed in other developed democratic countries. In fact, it could be said that the absence of the left in Korean politics in the last half century, at least on the surface, was exceptional and abnormal. Of course, the shocking memory of the Korean War was one of the reasons that allowed the right-wing faction to monopolize power. But as democratization was fueled in the 1980s, the emergence of the left and the “normalization” of politics were expected phenomena. If the rise of the progressive forces in Korea coincides with the patterns of the party politics in Western democratic states, should we welcome the change unconditionally?
The Western democratic countries could afford to have the fierce rivalry between the right and the left and maintain the fundamental frame of the state at the same time because there was a consensus, at the bottom of the competition, on basic principles and values that ties the progressive and the conservative into one. If such an underlying agreement did not exist, the two sides could not have competed so freely. Then what about us? Have we reached an agreement between the conservatives and the liberals on the shared fundamentals?
Surely it exists, so they say. It is true that we have a written national agreement on personal liberty and dignity as well as the inviolability of private property. But at a more specific level, it is yet to be seen how much in the way of shared philosophies the right and the left of Korea have in common.
At any rate, Korea is still a divided country. Therefore, one of the most important issues for Koreans is the basic concept of North Korea that will underlie our policies toward that country. The ruling and opposition parties should reach an agreement on this matter first. If the right and the left do not have a common concept of North Korea and are allowed free competition, the chaos and discord in Korean society will only be aggravated. We should all realize that even the collapse of the system might be possible in the worst case.
Ultimately, our understanding of North Korea boils down to the matter of our basic philosophy and values.
Those who at least agree with the basic values of the Republic of Korea would never regard the North Korean regime in the same light as North Koreans. Moreover, they cannot even acknowledge the value of the existence of North Korea.
Of course, we find ourselves in an inevitable situation ― we have to deal with the ruling forces of North Korea. But even in that case, Koreans should not confuse the negative essence of the North Korean regime with realistic demands for negotiations with the North for the sake of peace.
In the future, Korean politics need a serious discussion between the conservatives and the progressives on how we should look at North Korea. Only then can stable two-party politics and free competition between the conservatives and the progressives, and the right and the left, be possible. Also, the left and the right should have an agreed stance on the very fundamental issues. If the two sides continue to compete by attacking each other’s weaknesses without pursuing a discussion on the matter of North Korea, the conservatives and the progressives of Korea can never evolve from the deep distrust of each other’s true intentions. The progressives consider the conservatives as the force that extorts the citizens for the sake of their own interests. The conservatives think of the progressives as a dangerous force plotting to destroy the identity of the nation.
Before it is too late, the progressives and the conservatives of Korea should sit down and have a serious discussion over the partition of the Korean Peninsula.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won