[FOUNTAIN]Making sense of a complex world orderWhen dollars were leaving Korea like an ebbing tide in November and December 1997, the worst-case scenario was becoming a reality. There was no way out, and we were helpless. The United States and Japan were the only two countries in the world to which we could turn.
Pathetically enough, President Kim Young-sam and President-elect Kim Dae-jung had no choice but to wait for Washington’s decision.
Even after the government agreed with Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, on a rescue package on Nov. 16, Kang Kyong-shik, deputy prime minister for finance and economy at the time, telephoned the Japanese finance minister on the 18th and the U.S. secretary of the Treasury on the 19th and pleaded with them to save Korea.
The promise of early release of the $10 billion assistance came on Christmas Eve, but the U.S. undersecretary of the Treasury had flown into Seoul two days before that to interview and approve President-elect Kim Dae-jung. Every day, Korean banks were faced with loan due dates, and extending the foreign debt deadlines was a crucial task to prevent the bankruptcy of the nation. Washington asked for the cooperation of the G7 governments, and they ordered their own banks to honor Korean bills.
Seven years have passed. In a recent Joongang Ilbo survey, the 386 generation, from age 36 to 45, and the post-386 generation, from age 20 to 35, named the United States and Japan as the least favored nations among our five neighbors. Having lived through the era of democratization, the anti-American sentiment of the 386 generation started from the belief that the authoritarian regimes were under the patronage of Washington. The post-386 generation might loathe the American imperialism displayed in the death of two school girls by a U.S. forces vehicle to the war against Iraq.
But nothing in the world is so simple. The United States might have done some unpleasant things, but has also done its share of good things.
Some might say that we don’t owe thanks to the United States, but it is undeniable that we avoided the worst case scenario, default, thanks to American help.
An acute understanding of the complicated world might be a virtue we need to make our way through a world of uncertainties.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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