[VIEWPOINT]Emotions muddy clear debatesWhen we had a minor collision with another car, we solved the problem easily by contacting our respective insurance companies after drawing tire marks at the scene of accident.
Even a procedure that simple, however, does not go smoothly if one side gets excited. The dispute usually escalates into a fight, and words are exchanged, such as, “Why are you speaking rudely to me?” or “Why are you swearing at me?”
In our society nowadays, similar situations unfold over things that are important to our national agenda. The conclusion of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is a typical example. The free trade agreement is only a tool to promote trade.
Let’s consider the hammer as an example. It can be a useful tool for construction, but can also be used as a weapon for murder. Therefore, the debate in our society on the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement should be about how to use the tool.
However, the reality is a far cry from that. Those who oppose the free trade agreement claim that the Korean economy will be ruined when the agreement is concluded. Some tens of thousands of them staged protest rallies and made a public hearing on the free trade agreement impossible to hold. There even came an inflammatory warning that “households that earn a yearly income of less than 60 million won ($62,000) should seriously consider emigrating overseas.”
Trade Minister Kim Hyun-jong, who is in charge of negotiations with the United States, is abused as if he were a traitor, at the same level as Lee Wan-yong, who sold the Joseon Kingdom to Imperial Japan.
Then the supporters of the trade deal also started to react to their opponents emotionally. The supporters behaved calmly at the beginning, but got enraged when they heard the anti-American sentiment of the opponents and their irresponsible attitudes.
Right now, neither side wants to discuss issues related to the free trade agreement calmly or persuade the other side in a peaceful manner. An optical illusion of considering the trade agreement, which is nothing but a tool for trade promotion, as either absolute good or absolute evil is taking place in our society.
South Korea has managed to live on the economic development model of former President Park Chung Hee for the past 40 years, but it has reached its limit. We now desperately need a new economic model.
The Korea-U.S. free trade agreement provides us with a vital opportunity to unfold a grand debate on the Republic of Korea: With what strategy can we survive in the coming decades? We should not waste this opportunity by engaging in struggles of emotion, ideology and politics.
The debate on the transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington is the same. The very moment South Korea agreed with the United States on the need for the U.S. forces in Korea to be equipped with “strategic flexibility,” wartime control was destined to be returned to South Korea.
For the U.S. forces in Korea to move to conflict areas with flexibility, it’s a problem for U.S. troops to be bound by wartime control and unable to leave the peninsula. Therefore, wartime control was an issue that had only the question of the timing of the transfer left. It only created a division of national opinion after President Roh Moo-hyun attached the meaning of “self-reliance” to it. He has tried to make it seem as if it is the present government that is belatedly transferring wartime control from Washington because it realizes the need to restore sovereignty and wants to repent for mistakes made by the previous administrations.
In South Korea’s position, the transfer should be postponed until Korea has the confidence that it is free from North Korea’s nuclear program and other security threats. But if one opposes the transfer of wartime control, saying “wartime control must not be returned,” he will be caught in President Roh’s trap. When we criticize the plan, we must focus on the inappropriateness of the timing, saying “the transfer of wartime control now will create a crisis in our security.”
President Roh has two goals: the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and the transfer of the wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington. However, his proposal for a free trade agreement with the United States is opposed by the liberal faction in the ruling camp, while the conservatives resist the transfer of the wartime control with all their might.
The goals look to be too large for a president who has only one year and six months left before retirement. But we cannot evade national projects on which the future of the nation depends.
We have no other choice but to exert all our efforts in pushing things that should be done and opposing projects that should not be done. In the course of this, however, we should keep in mind that we should not be swept to an emotional fight forgetting the essence of the problem.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo