[Outlook]Waiting for a middle ground

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[Outlook]Waiting for a middle ground

Unusual changes occurred in the Korean political spectrum during negotiations for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. Old rivals Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye stood together in support of the agreement, and major newspapers backed them. It is too early to say whether this unity is temporary or permanent, which would allow the nation to adopt open and advanced national development strategies.
Citizens can at least hope they will witness the emergence of a party based on common sense after years of political strife where progressives and conservatives locked horns. The new force would be a first in the post-democratization era of Korean politics, which has been dominated by a few ideological groups.
The Korea-U.S. FTA garnered relatively comprehensive support throughout the nation. The reason for this can be examined in two ways. First, popular demands have called for an improved standard of living to match Korea’s advanced economic power in the world after years of industrialization and democratization.
An urgent call to facilitate Korea’s competencies in a globalized economy also rang the bell. Thus, the FTA received basic support based on physical need, instead of ideologies.
But a bigger problem exists when it comes to establishing a central force that overcomes ideological bifurcation. Especially in the areas of unification and North Korean policies, extremist positions and orthodox doctrines often clash. Hopefully a resolute ideological center will emerge in this particular field and garner nationwide support.
Lately the Grand National Party demonstrated slight changes in their negative stance toward the Sunshine Policy, and this turn of events generates an expectation that an agreement could be reached to institute constructive policies toward North Korea.
But one should be warned of confusing the means with the ends of unification policy. The rationale behind the Sunshine Policy is that it provisionally provides “sunshine” so that North Korea can relax and come to the table for conversation with its coat of arms off. That rationale has received popular support because it also provides humanitarian support for fellow North Koreans. Yet the sunshine itself does not constitute the ultimate end of a policy but one means to an end.
Emphasizing the methods of the Sunshine Policy does not address the ideological strife pervasive in our society. To do that, we need a blueprint for a new relationship between the two Koreas and a definition of the kind of unification the Koreas want to achieve. It must also provide strategies to realize the new vision.
We should be reminded here that the “Korean National Community Unification Formula” is still effective, a unification guideline legislated at the 13th parliament with the support of the majority of citizens. The formula was established in the middle of a politically volatile transition period two decades ago, marked by the domestic transition to democracy in 1987 and also by the international meltdown of the Cold War, beginning with the unification of Germany.
Unification of the two governments can be postponed to the distant future when the Korean nation’s 70 million people can freely choose which form of government they want. However, unification of a national political community is a promise we have made in the present, a social and economic community that will be second to none in the world in its power and will preserve the history and memories of our thousands of years of life as a community.
And we were thrilled to see the South-North Basic Agreement ratified in 1991 and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the following year. The Sunshine Policy should not compromise the above formula of unification founded on many eager hopes for one national community. It is ultimately a means to an end, though quite a popular one.
The political consciousness of citizens must be reconsidered soon in order to address ideological issues involving unification policy.
First, we must admit opening to globalization is the historical demand of this age and try not to make Korean Peninsula, including North Korea, an isolated island in the world. It also requires an adamant devotion to human rights, which are one of the shared bases of an open society. Secondly, the promise to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula ought never to be compromised.
Korea, as one of the leading countries in the world, expects a new locomotive political force to emerge in Korean politics to allow national confidence to thrive in global competition and promotes the Sunshine Policy as a means to build a Korean national community.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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