[OUTLOOK]A lot of work lies aheadAmong the three countries of Northeast Asia, Korea is the smallest in size, population and economy. Our official name in Korean ‘Daehanminguk,’ however, has the Chinese character dae, signifying “big,” in it. If we want to live up to our name and avoid repeating the shameful past of our history, we must dream big and work ten times harder than the others.
Unfortunately, the current economic trends in the three countries and their respective competitive edge show that Korea is lagging behind. China’s economy is continuing at an average growth rate of 9 percent. Japan is showing signs of rising after its ten-year recession. Because Japan’s recent economic recovery was due to an increase in consumption and investment and not government support policies, many experts expect the economy to rise for a long time.
The Korea Development Institute forecast that the Korean economy could grow at a rate of 5.5 percent this year. But on a quarter-to-quarter basis, the institute expects the growth rate, which could rise to 6 percent in this second quarter, to fall to below 5 percent in the fourth quarter. This means there is a big possibility that next year’s growth rate could be lower than that of this year.
The long-term prospects are even gloomier. At an international seminar on industrial competitiveness held at the Korea Development Institute last weekend, a Japanese scholar remarked that Japan had kept its competitiveness even during the “lost decade.” He also said that the Japanese government is pursuing concrete measures such as reforms in the financial sector to further enhance the country’s competitiveness in the future. Experts from China attributed their country’s competitiveness to a low-cost, abundant labor force and the transfer of technology through vast foreign investment. China understands sufficiently the importance of a market economy and globalization, they said, and is ready to make the best of it.
In contrast, Korean scholars voiced their concern that the Korean economy’s competitiveness and dynamic character have lessened over the past 15 years and that the government’s emphasis on economic equity and standardization was the reason for this decline. The scholars pointed out that in order to raise our competitiveness, the government needed to avoid falling into these temptations and traps.
Judging from such discussions and the recent atmosphere in Korean politics, while China and Japan busy themselves with practical measures to get further ahead of us economically, we will be fighting among ourselves over theory, whether growth comes before distribution and whether efficiency is more important than equity.
What is somewhat reassuring is the news that Our Open Party, the government party, has stated that it would choose practicality over ideology. “Practical” does not necessary have to be an antonym of “ideological.” Ideological reforms can always be pursued through practical means. First, before causing confusion and social resistance by introducing new systems, the government should review the existing systems and explore ways to salvage them in ways compatible with the direction of its reforms. This would be a far more effective way than starting new reforms that end up in all talk and no action.
Also, in legislation, the National Assembly should first deal with bills that have the best chance of being passed rather than controversial ones. Among the 50 or so bills that the government party is planning to introduce, there are 38 that the Grand National Party could in theory agree to. These are the bills that should be dealt in the National Assembly first. That way, the government could start on the reforms while stabilizing our politics and assisting the economic recovery.
Finally, the government should not overdo the slogans and projects. An example of this would be the “hub of the Northeast Asian economy” vision that caused unnecessary friction with neighboring countries. A more modest goal from the beginning, such as “a central nation of Northeast Asia” would have been a better idea.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ro Sung-tae