[VIEWPOINT]Geopolitics loom large in 2008 elections

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[VIEWPOINT]Geopolitics loom large in 2008 elections

The presidential election will be held in December next year. In February 2008, the new president will be inaugurated. Thus the leadership of the Republic of Korea will be changed.
It is not only the leadership of South Korea that will change in 2008; a big change in the diplomatic environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula is also expected to take place that year. The results of the U.S. presidential race will come out in November 2008. Whether President Vladimir Putin of Russia can run for a third-term presidency will also be decided in the same year. China will convene the National People’s Congress to decide whether President Hu Jintao will stay in power for a prolonged term or not. In Japan, a new administration under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been launched in September. South Korea has to take part in the creation of a new international order as a matter of course. It is also an opportunity for South Korea to take a new direction for its future development.
At this point in time, North Korea has announced a nuclear test, following its test-firing of missiles in July. The reason North Korea has decided to use its last wild card seems, to a large degree, to be caused by its sense that it has been driven to a corner by U.S. economic sanctions. It may also be seen as a preemptive move to take advantage of the gap that will be created when the leadership of four strong powers that surround the peninsula change. The North has made a bet aiming to create an international environment more favorable than it is in now.
However, it is South Korea that ends up being put in a difficult position. The South used to give food and clothes on humanitarian reasons to needy people squatting before the gate of its house. Instead of appreciating the humanitarian aid, however, they one day demanded more money, saying, “We are protecting you from burglars and robbers.” If they demand that the South surrender the whole property by threatening it with dynamite, what would it feel like? The present situation South Korea is in is like that. It is like someone who saves a drowning man, who then demands to be compensated for lost luggage.
People have lost confidence in the security strategy of the present administration. There is nothing they can expect from a government that said, “No one can say for sure which country North Korea will aim at with the nuclear weapon it develops,” and alleged, till recently, that “there is no sign that the North will have a nuclear test.”
As the government has no leverage on North Korea, although it gave almost everything it could to the North, the North Korea policy of the present government is nothing but a failure.
The presidential hopefuls who will run in the elections next year shouldn’t repeat the failed North Korea policy. They have to equip themselves with the capacity and knowledge needed to cope with the changing environment in and out of the peninsula in 2008. They should be able to unfold a new policy on North Korea and a new foreign policy in accord with the emergence of a new international environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
Another qualification that the next president should be armed with is economic knowledge. Starting from the latter part of the Roh Tae-woo administration, the Korean economy has been stagnant for 15 years. It has failed to record genuine growth. The growth potential has also crashed to the bottom. Businesses wander away out of the country as they fail to find a place for investment, and the rate of youth unemployment increases day by day. If we waste our time any further, we will cross the limit that will bar our entry into the league of advanced countries. We should understand that businesses and the nation are in the same boat, because first-class businesses create the brand name for the nation. Japan could get proper recognition in the United States and Europe owing to Sony electronic products and Toyota automobiles. It is the desperate wish of the Korean people that they could have a few more big businesses, like Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motors, LG Electronics and Posco. Then the national brand of Korea will get more international recognition and more good jobs will be created.
In spite of that, the government criticizes any suggestion to remove the investment ceiling on cross-affiliate shareholdings as a move against reform, limits business activities with numerous regulations and exposes unethical aspects of the governance of private businesses. The government takes the lead in a move to make public the details of the sales price of housing units, but does not compensate the financial loss that the construction companies have to suffer from unsold units.
Therefore, the year 2008 is an important year for Korea. It is also an opportunity to provide new plans for the future of our economy, diplomacy and security policy. In the next presidential race, we have to scrutinize thoroughly the plans that the presidential hopefuls provide on these issues. It is urgent because the fate of Korea in the coming 30 years depends on how well the next president fares during his term of five years.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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