[Outlook]Joining the 21st century march

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[Outlook]Joining the 21st century march

For Koreans who have recently suffered through unusually heavy rain and heat waves, it must have been depressing to hear the news over the past month.
First of all, confusion has reigned in the political community, including mudslinging in the Grand National Party primary and the bolting of pro-government lawmakers who then reunited under a new party name. People must have been bothered as the bustling noise of the political community grew louder day after day.
Secondly, having a group of Koreans taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan has only deepened people’s worries and anxieties. Koreans feel powerless, as there seems to be nothing they can do for the hostages.
Thirdly, we are confused by the announcement that a second South-North Korean summit meeting will be held in Pyongyang. Although the agenda for the talks is to be decided later, we don’t know whether this is good news or bad.
Whenever we confront the dizzying pace of incidents taking place both inside and outside the country, we tend to get over-excited rather than making objective and comprehensive analyses of the situation.
It is time for us to think of these crises in new terms, by examining what they mean for domestic politics, international relations and inter-Korean relations. Once they are understood in this light, a comprehensive national strategy should be established.
Today, Korea is at an important juncture where we have to form a consensus among the people while somehow upgrading the nation’s status to that of an advanced country. Although we have successfully industrialized and adopted democracy in the past, we now find ourselves wandering around without direction. We lack a vision, a strategy, leadership and a national consensus.
First of all, our political system and culture have not moved an inch from the “presidential non-responsibility system,” in which people entrust absolute power to the president, who represents a minority.
Since the launch of our democratic Constitution in 1987, it can be said that Korea has been led by minority-supported presidents.
Roh Tae-woo was elected with the support of 37.6 percent of voters, and Kim Young-sam assumed power through the merger of three political parties. Kim Dae-jung won power through a political coalition with Kim Jong-pil and Roh Moo-hyun, who bolted from the ruling party right after the election, maintains a low approval rating of around 20 percent.
The fact that minority presidents have taken the helm of the state over the past 20 years shows the maturity of Korean people’s sense of democracy. A new national goal is to achieve an efficient management of state affairs in a transition period in history.
The world today is experiencing instability and confusion as the curtain lowers on the era of the U.S. superpower. The essential changes in the nature of the traditional geopolitical balance of power, international competition in the global market and the Middle East situation have made all countries in the world grope for a new survival strategy.
Koreans take pride in having grown into the world’s 13th-largest economy despite being a divided nation, but we are not sure whether we have been paying proper attention to and participating in international affairs to an extent that matches our international stature.
The incident with the Taliban in Afghanistan has forced us to reflect on our lack of understanding of and attention to the Middle East and the Islamic world.
The difficulties in inter-Korean relations, which are symbolized by the second inter-Korean summit meeting on Oct. 2 to 4, can be attributed to a “the crisis of imbalance.” The gap between South and North Koreas in various fields have grown bigger year after year. The bigger the gap becomes, the more opaque the prospects for building a national community and the larger the expenses for unification grow.
Moreover, the North’s attempt to create a power base through its development of nuclear weapons has made the prospects of national unification even darker. Faced with this situation, no one can deny the fact that the source of crisis is an imbalance between the South and the North, which can be seen in the South’s attempts to engage the North, which still operates a closed-door policy.
Since the summit meeting is to be held under such difficult circumstances, I hope the two leaders, while maintaining basic etiquette toward each other, make the meeting an occasion to agonize over making a bold change in the North’s direction. The North needs to get up to date with current trends and the history of the Korean people. Now it relies on ideological rhetoric that unnecessarily emphasizes the “nation.”
Korean society is based on a value system that emphasizes human liberty and welfare at all levels including domestic, internationaland where inter-Korean affairs are concerned. We must help Korea grow into a democratic country that keeps these principles faithfully and concentrate our efforts on the construction of a national community where all Koreans can live together well. It is also time for Koreans as a people to actively participate in securing the global well-being of human beings. Shouldn’t we join the grand march of humanity, taking giant strides in the front row?

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

by Lee Hong-koo
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