[VIEWPOINT]Still hope for President RohThe government has reshuffled cabinet ministers in charge of diplomatic and security affairs, as well as the director of the national intelligence agency. Many people are voicing disappointment and resentment at this. Personally, I feel rather desperate and frustrated. Putting aside the merits or demerits of the newly-appointed personnel, we can feel the president’s useless obstinacy in personnel appointments and the method of appointment.
North Korea announced that it would return to the six-party talks, after going through three-way negotiations with the United States and China. Japan is said to have received reports on all stages of the negotiations. However, we were completely cut off from the progress of the negotiations. We were in a situation where South Korea was estranged from a card game, without getting the chance to have a glimpse, let alone make any comment, while the experts played the game. This is the reality of Korea’s domestic politics and diplomacy. At least we did not give up hope until recently. We had been thinking that the president was, at least, elected through the popular vote of the people. And I asked, through this column, that the president accomplish such important tasks as the conclusion of a free trade agreement with the United States and the reform of the national insurance system, so that he could be a president who would go down in history. Do I now have to give up such expectations and watch the passage of time in silence?
Despite all this, I cannot let go of my hope. I want to believe that there is still a chance for the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which has about a year left in office, and that it still wants to take that chance despite all its obstinacy.
Jeju Island was filled with waves of yellow last week. In the orchards surrounded by stone walls or trees, mandarins ripening to a bright orange covered the fields. On the other hand, protestors were waving yellow flags and placards that pledged to block the free trade agreement with the United States. At the entrance to the Jungmun resort, where the negotiations were taking place, I had to collect my pass and go through rows of police barricades to enter my lodgings, and I contemplated the fate of the Korea-U.S. trade agreement while watching the sea.
There was a time, back in the 1980s, when allowing free imports of bananas was an issue. Farmers’ organizations were extremely worried. Their worries were natural, because a survey on Korean’s favorite fruits, conducted by the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, showed that bananas were one of the most favored, and especially with teenagers, the fruit was overwhelmingly in first place. Opening the market was decided amid concerns that bananas would sweep the fruit market. However, that concern did not last long. Many banana importers had to close down their businesses as bananas took a position in the marketplace as just one of many fruits. It was proved that the competitiveness of Korean-grown fruit was stronger than we had thought. The same thing happened with U.S. potatoes, Chilean grapes and New Zealand kiwis. Unlike the worries people had at the time of the market opening, these agricultural products took a position on the market without creating much ado.
People also worried greatly when we started to import Japanese electronic products. At a time when Japanese products were considered to be the best as far as electronic goods were concerned, there was an understandable reason for people to worry over the market opening. However, Korean products did not cede their market to the Japanese products. To the contrary, Korean products now get at least equivalent or even superior treatment to those of Japan in the world market, and are expanding their global position. It has become possible because our manufacturing industry has built its strength through fierce internal competition and the expansion of the market opening.
Opening up markets and competition are things that people are sometimes afraid of and want to avoid, but they are not things that can be or should be avoided.
As I watched the sea out to the Pacific Ocean, I contemplated the modern history of East Asia. The reason why China, which was one of the dominant superpowers of the world in the first half of the last millennium, broke down so hopelessly in the second half was because it employed a closed-door policy in the early days of the Ming dynasty. In the early 15th century, the Ming dynasty blocked its own expansion via sea by deciding to withdraw the fleet of Admiral Chunghwa, which had control of the ocean stretching from the shores of China to Africa, and started to extensively rebuild the Great Wall of China to strengthen its northern boundaries. From then, the great empire of China started to decline. One of the things that made Japan become the strongest power in East Asia in the last 100 or so years of the last millennium was an artificial island, Dejima, in the bay of Nagasaki, which served as an exit to the west. That outlet became a window through which the Japanese read the world, and it provided the engine for Japan to take to the road to openness and competition one step earlier than other East Asian countries.
We must not forget that Korea’s economic strength, which has grown so much that we should be proud of it, was achieved through such openness and competition. I think that a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement provides another opportunity to challenge what has emerged in this flow of history. Being happy with self-sufficiency could be a virtue for an individual but, in the case of a nation, it is a dereliction of duty for our future generations. In one corner of our society, a political conspiracy theory that the negotiations will be ruptured under the excuse of strong demands from the United States is already going around like a ghost. That is the reason why I still cannot give up the hope that President Roh will have the historic insight to use his remaining time in office and his power wisely.
How good it would be if the frightful obstinacy of the president were used in things like this!
*The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Tae-wook