[OUTLOOK]Roh must act cautiously

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[OUTLOOK]Roh must act cautiously

If the financial crisis of 1997 came as a big shock to our economy, the recent nuclear testing by North Korea came as an even bigger shock to our security. Both happened suddenly, out of the blue, when things seemed to be going well. The financial crisis of 1997 occurred around the time we had achieved the $10,000 mark for GDP per capita and had joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
This time, too, we were hit unaware while crying for “inter-Korean dialogue” and “diplomatic autonomy.” We were still hopeful even when the North started testing missiles a few months ago, but this time the blow is severe. We overcame the financial crisis through the assistance of partners such as the United States, but our economy was damaged badly. Despite the seriousness of the financial crisis, we still don’t even have an acknowledged consensus on how it happened. Despite investigations by the Board of Audit and Inspection, National Assembly hearings and long trials of the so-called “crisis culprits,” the authorities have failed to produce a convincing and comprehensive report. This was because everyone was too busy pointing fingers to bother finding the facts. Shouldn’t we at least know what actually happened to prevent it from happening again? This confusion has led to the ridiculous situation of the real culprits blaming others for the crisis.
The same thing seems to be happening with North Korea’s nuclear testing. Despite all the sincere gestures we made under the name of our so-called Sunshine Policy, Pyongyang went so far as to undertake a nuclear test. What was Pyongyang’s opinion of us that it went ahead with a nuclear test? What made the North Koreans think it would be all right to one-sidedly negate the 1991 inter-Korean pact on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula? And who bolstered North Korea’s nerve to develop nuclear programs while receiving various forms of assistance from Seoul? Something has gone very wrong. We have been dealt a severe blow to our foreign policy and national security. Our economy and society have both received a terrible shock. Yet no one is taking any responsibility, just making lame excuses and evasive answers.
Most of the debate consists of judgments and opinions handed out in self-righteousness. The administration’s position and policies are utterly confusing as well. When the financial crisis happened in 1997, the government at least exercised self-discipline and sought to control the situation with consistent policies. This time, those who had aggravated the situation are the ones who are making the biggest noise.
In some ways, the nuclear test by North Korea is a far more serious situation than the financial crisis. Should international sanctions be undertaken against North Korea, we have no idea how Pyongyang will react. We need our government to assess the situation objectively and establish a prompt plan but, unfortunately, this does not seem to be taking place.
Even in 1997, when the signs of a financial crisis first started appearing, the government failed to take any effective measures, caught up in political calculations for the presidential election at the end of the year. When our nation was on the brink of bankruptcy and our authorities finally decided to call on Washington, they were only told that the U.S. government had already decided that the International Monetary Fund should bail out Korea. Japan also rejected our plea for help while suggesting the United States save us. We had to go through the embarrassment of having China refuse our entreaty for a loan because, in the words of a Chinese official, “A country with a GDP of $1,000 per capita can’t lend to a country with a GDP of $10,000 per capita.” Again, politics might get in the way of our government’s reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test. Also, again, our relations with the United States and Japan are at a low point.
Depending on how we act, we might again be left in the cold by our allies, just like the last time. With the situation going this far, our government is still walking a different direction from our allies, while talking only about dialogue and negotiations. Either our government is extremely naive or it has such a far-sighted and deep plan that no one can understand it.
However, this time, we have no International Monetary Fund to come and save us.
This is a serious situation, on which the fate of our country might well depend. Therefore, those in the position of making policy decisions should act a little more cautiously, taking time with their decisions and being cautious with their actions and words. This goes especially for our president, the chief of state who is responsible for the fate of our country.

* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Woo-seok
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