[OUTLOOK]We should put the people first

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[OUTLOOK]We should put the people first

Now that it is the end of the year and the weather is getting cold, we naturally find ourselves missing the warmth of family, neighbors and community. There is still so much poverty and pain in this country where we live, and violent conflicts of enmity, jealousy and mistrust still persist.
In such circumstances, however, the news that many Koreans want to share love with their neighbors, in big and small ways, allows us to reconfirm our faith in mankind and our community. It also gives us an opportunty to restore our courage and faith in the future. This should be a time of reflection for us, for reorganizing our deranged understanding of national community and straightening out our tangled attitudes.
With the 60th anniversary of the nation’s division coming up, it is inevitable that relations between the two Koreas should be our biggest concern. The word “community,” incidentally, disappeared stealthily from our discussions of inter-Korean relations some time ago. There is no Korean who does not know that this issue goes beyond the rivalry and cooperation between political systems, and is a problem caused by the artificial territorial division and historical rupture from which our national community has to suffer. Therefore, we have defined the meaning of national unification as the restoration and re-creation of our national community.
Much time has already passed since we formed a national consensus that our unification policy should focus on improving the welfare of the members of our national community. So the most urgent task in inter-Korean cooperation is that of human security ―that is, how we will secure a basic welfare standard for North Korean residents, and how we will construct a national community based on this security.
But it is my concern that despite the efforts toward cooperation and exchange over the years, the ethics and logic of our community might have become blurred in the minds of our people, due to unnecessary ideological slogans and leaders’ desire to display their accomplishments.
For instance, take the North Korean nuclear problem, which has been a subject of great interest for two years. There are debates on it almost every day, yet strangely enough, there is no discussion of the validity of the “Joint Declaration of Denucleariza-tion of the Korean Peninsula,” which went into effect in 1992.
This declaration states that the South and the North desire “to eliminate the danger of nuclear war through the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and thus to create an environment and conditions favorable for peace and peaceful unification of our country and contribute to peace and security in Asia and the world.”
This is an extremely reasonable promise to the Korean people at this point in time. The best way to guarantee both the safety of our national community and the human security of our people would be to keep the promise of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
It should be pointed out that to turn this joint declaration, which was deliberated upon by the Central People’s Committee of North Korea and ratified by the North’s then-President Kim Il Sung, into a mere scrap of paper is in grave violation of the spirit of national community. It should also be emphasized that restoring the declaration’s validity, through a joint effort of North and South, would be the best thing for the future of our people. We cannot treat the people’s safety lightly by giving priority to the security of the system, or of an administration.
Nowadays, even in our society, we can see that the simple logic of giving the people’s welfare priority over any abstract ideology is being forgotten in the process of political change. The progressivism of the forces now in charge of the administration and the legislature are based on the expectation that they will promote people’s welfare, especially that of the lower class, more than ever.
But there are no satisfied voices among the people saying that their quality of life has improved. The reality is that there are no plans to give the people faith in how the social safety net will be established, or how the lower-class welfare problem will be solved.
I am not saying that inter-Korean relations are not important, or that reform bills are unnecessary. Yet it is true that Korea’s leaders have become very susceptible to political temptations that prompt them to put aside problems involving the people’s welfare, which do not show immediate results, while they pursue policies that attract attention from ideological or historical perspectives.
The government and the governing party’s decision to give priority to economic revival and national integration next year is good news, even though it came a little belatedly. I hope that the new year will be one in which we think together about how to build a community.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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