[Viewpoint]Dancing through landminesAs you go through a new calendar, you pay special attention to certain months. When I opened my 2008 calendar, I flipped it first to April and November. The general elections here and the U.S. presidential election -- the two events that will greatly influence the future of the Lee Myung-bak administration -- are scheduled on April 9 and Nov. 4, respectively.
If the current trend continues through the general elections in April, the Grand National Party will win a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. However, we need to pay attention to more than just the outcome of that election.
The more important thing is whether the Lee administration will be able to create a powerful and efficient government in the 21st century as the citizens’ expectations grow even larger after the general elections.
In the democratized and globalized environment of the 21st century, the government that revitalizes the economy will not be one that overwhelms, controls and orders its citizens around.
First, the government should equip itself with advanced knowledge and propose a direction for society. Second, the government should play the role of mediator, encouraging companies and labor unions to work together. Third, it should strictly apply the rules of the game to social groups.
This spring will probably mark the first test for the Lee administration, as protests against the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement will be held and the progressive civic groups and labor unions will hold street demonstrations.
When the movement against the FTA and the “spring offensive” by the labor unions intensify to a point where laws are broken, the new administration will face a full-scale dilemma as a pragmatic conservative unit. Maintaining law and order is the key element of the powerful government that conservatives want, but simply applying the laws rigorously will not resolve the complicated reality.
The new administration must play a delicate and difficult role, strictly controlling foul play by both management and labor while creating an atmosphere in which both sides can play the game fairly.
It won’t be easy, but the only way the new government can make Korea a 21st-century advanced nation with an energetic economy and society is to expertly integrate the two opposing sides.
The relationship with industrial giants is also a sensitive matter, because the large companies will spearhead the expansion of investment and creation of jobs.
If the government in the 20th century played the role of conductor of an orchestra, directly supervising and leading the private sector, the government of the 21st-century should play the role of a performance manager or impresario.
The government should optimize the concert environment so the large companies and the workers can perform together harmoniously, while focusing on drawing as many spectators as possible.
In other words, the president-elect should continue the moderate tone he has shown since meeting with business leaders a few days ago.
The second crossroad for the new administration will be the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4.
As we have witnessed from the countless incidents of friction caused by the Roh-Bush combination, the future of Korea’s foreign policy will be determined by the chemistry between Lee and the next U.S. president.
Nevertheless, the new combination will not necessarily guarantee an optimistic future if we consider the security-oriented tendency of United States foreign policy and the complicated structure of the North Korean nuclear tensions.
No matter who becomes the U.S. president, the new president will emphasize the mutual interests for both nations, preferring an alliance through a combination of military forces and soft power.
However, we still have to find a way to dismantle the North Korean nuclear program, which will be far more challenging.
Moreover, the United States hopes to expand the scope of the Korea-U.S. alliance through strategic flexibility.
After all, despite the pragmatic approach by President-elect Lee, there exist considerable differences in viewpoints between Seoul and Washington.
The skillful tuning of these differences will be the biggest challenge for the new administration. In short, the new year for the Lee administration will be determined by how it muddles through the fluctuations of the spring and autumn.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon