[OUTLOOK]Roh should be a neutral managerThe dawn of the new year has passed. Public service advertising by the Government Information Agency emphasized that export volume exceeded $300 billion, the national per capita income would reach $20,000 and a Korean diplomat had become the secretary general of the United Nations. That same advertising claimed that our country is going in the right direction, no matter what people may say. That is in line with President Roh Moo-hyun’s stance. The president confidently said the administration has done a good job in everything except the real estate policy.
It is understandable that the authorities want to emphasize the bright side, but there is a dark side as well. Imports have grown larger than exports, the net profit from exports has decreased despite increased export volume and the ripple effect of an increase in export volume has increasingly grown weak. China is our largest export market, but mostly for raw materials and capital goods, rather than end products. When factories are transferred overseas, such transfers are also counted as exports.
The national per capita income is reaching $20,000 because of the strong won. But as conditions for trade have worsened, the gross national income has remained the same or shrunk. Due to a polarization in society, people feel poorer than they actually are. Domestic sales are sluggish while the people spend more overseas.
To become the secretary general of the United Nations is certainly an honor for that individual. But to view it as a symbol of advancement of a country is inappropriate.
The president, with an approval rating of 10 percent level, is piloting the vessel named Korea. The vessel was damaged by the populist president who cries for self-reliance. Due to North Korea’s nuclear test, insecurity has increased, causing the engine of economic growth to slow.
The captain of the vessel should change its route in order to resolve the security crisis and integrate our society in order to restore and enhance the drive for growth. In this respect, 2007 is a crucial year for our country’s future.
Mr. Roh once said that as long as inter-Korean relations worked well, it would not matter whether other things worked or not. North Korea is attempting to become a nuclear state and it is unclear whether the six-party talks will be resumed. The 2006 Defense Ministry’s White Paper described North Korea’s military capacities as a “serious threat.” That sounds like a confession that the participatory administration’s North Korea policy has failed.
The joint command of wartime control over South Korea’s military is a strategic choice for our survival, a different issue from the independence of our army. It is a populist approach to say that our sovereignty loses face if we share wartime control with the United States and to try to persuade the public with that argument.
The president has sharply divided the people, shaken the basis of security of the country, made us diplomatically isolated, ignored problems of people’s livelihoods and damaged the growth engine of the economy. That is a serious dereliction of his duties as president.
The issues in the real estate market have been tangled even more because the government is more obsessed with an ideal to have housing prices under control than to present realistic measures. If the administration mismanages household loans, a crisis that might be even more serious than the foreign exchange crisis could erupt.
To believe that 90 percent of people have turned their backs on the president because of the media’s malicious incitement is to insult the people. It is not persuasive to blame the media when the Uri Party has repeatedly lost in elections of all kinds and now seeks to change the party or create a new one, and 61 percent of those who voted for Mr. Roh as president now say they regret their decision.
Mr. Roh should focus on reviving the economy above party politics and exert leadership in pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States. He should serve as a neutral manager of the administration until his term ends. The dichotomy of conservatives versus progressives and the Cold War against peace is old-fashioned. Carrots and sticks should be balanced when dealing with North Korea. A pragmatic approach is needed, which means, when wielding sticks, all should become conservatives, and all should become progressives when offering carrots.
In 2008, the Republic of Korea will mark its 60th anniversary. This year, the people should work together to prevent regionalism, pro-North Korean influences or anti-Americanism from being used in election campaigns. We should be able to demonstrate our capabilities both inside and outside the country.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun