[VIEWPOINT]It’s too late for a Roh breakthroughThe outcome of the May 31 local elections was shocking for two reasons.
First, the voters gave a crushing defeat to the ruling party, almost bringing down the party.
The second is that the public turned its backs on the Uri Party only two years after it took power, following the Grand National Party’s attempt to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun.
The results highlighted the uncertainty and the unpredictability of Korea’s elections and the Roh administration is garnering unfavorable international attention with only a year and a half remaining in its term.
Washington is quietly cheering the election outcome, feeling reassured that the ruling party, known for its anti-American tendencies, suffered a disastrous defeat.
While some hastily predicted that the 10-year rule of the progressives, including five years under the Kim Dae-jung Administration, is drawing to an end, many observers said Korea’s turn to the right will not completely clear the worries the United States has.
That’s because Korean political parties, ruling or opposition, are against the U.S. policy to put pressure on North Korea and cause a breakdown of the regime.
The international community is paying attention to the next move of President Roh. He might seek a breakthrough, offering drastic concessions and assistance to the North, hoping to dramatically reverse the difficult political situation he now faces through an inter-Korean summit meeting.
That possibility is open, with former president Kim Dae-jung planning to visit Pyongyang later this month.
However, now that the nation has confirmed its distrust of the president and with only a year and half of his term remaining, such a venture for the president has a limit in itself.
Moreover, whether to recognize the products made in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex, a symbol of the inter-Korean economic cooperation, as products of Korea, is not just difficult, but impossible to resolve with the United States.
It has more political than economic meaning, and unless the nuclear tension, the counterfeit U.S. dollar problem, or the human rights concerns are resolved, it will be practically impossible to draw the support of the U.S. Congress.
Nevertheless, why does the Roh Administration hold on to the “made in Korea” label? Some say it is a part of the strategy to win a concession in another area, while others say it’s part of a conspiracy theory and Roh is using the issue to foil the negotiations.
Relying on the unpredictability of Korean politics and the fluctuations of public sentiment, Mr. Roh might feel tempted to reverse again and take another anti-American, anti-Japanese populist approach.
The trust between Seoul and Washington and between Seoul and Tokyo is so broken that worst-case scenarios can be considered.
While Pyongyang seems to be on the side of the Korean incumbent government, Washington has noted that North Korea is careful about making attacks on Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye. Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission, is realistic enough to know he might have to deal with her in the future.
The voters’ decision in the May 31 elections shows their overall distrust of the state administration in the last three years, beyond the real estate and taxation issues.
Japanese observers made a convincing observation that the defeat is punishment by the public for the incumbent government having denied the accomplishments of past administrations in the name of reform. The government, they say, also undervalued the economic development of previous administrations, which happened through cooperation with the United States and Japan, in the name of self-reliant diplomacy.
Therefore, instead of seeking a drastic breakthrough, it is more reasonable for the Roh administration to follow the people’s desires, get over the narrow-minded North Korean policy and pursue an upgraded foreign policy and state administration suited for the 10th-largest economy in the world.
The dynamics of Korea overflow not just in the business sector, but also in the street cheering culture, the wave of Korean pop culture across Asia, the protests staged overseas and the violence in the cyber world.
Lee Kuan Yew, the minister mentor of Singapore, has predicted that in 20 years China would replace everything in Korea. And he pointedly joked that Korea should explore overseas markets with the energy that union workers and riot police use to fight on the street.
Turning such energy into social capital and bringing it together into a national strength is what a leader does.
The leader and leadership suitable for Korea, a world power, are expected not just at home but also abroad.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun