[Viewpoint]Globalists win debate on economyApril was once called a month when changes are sought amid winds. This month was no different.
An independent counsel’s probe into Samsung brought the indictment of Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who quickly resigned. The company then closed its strategic planning office, a long standing and central pillar of the conglomerate.
Next, the South Korean government concluded long-standing negotiations with the United States on resuming beef imports. Seoul agreed to ease restrictions that limited imports to only de-boned U.S. beef from cattle less than 30 months of age.
All this happened in one month.
The two decisions faced mixed reactions.
In the Samsung case, some said the independent counsel should have gone further.
Though Lee was indicted for alleged tax evasion and breach of trust, the issue that funds had been used to bribe officials was left untouched.
Others, however, said the independent counsel had gone far enough and that people need to wait to see what evidence comes out in court. They also praised Samsung’s reform efforts in dumping the controversial planning unit.
The lifting of beef sanctions also was met with mixed reviews.
Some claimed that Seoul had caved in to U.S. pressure and exposed the nation to mad cow disease. Others, however, said the decision was based on clear international standards. They also said that lifting the restriction will pressure the U.S. Congress to ratify the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement.
The competing views on the Samsung and beef import issues pose a test for Korean society’s maturity.
Those who view the outcome as positive are globalists.
They believe the Samsung chairman’s strategic vision, willingness to take risks and strong organization have made the company the global business that it is today. They know Samsung is not perfect, but maintain that the controversial ownership structure of the conglomerate is actually beneficial.
The globalists have a similar view toward U.S. beef.
While skeptics say U.S. slaughterhouses will loosen health control because Korea agreed to import U.S. beef from cattle over 30 months old, globalists disagree.
They say Seoul’s recent decision added one more reason for the U.S. livestock industry, which exports beef to not only Korea but also to the world, to more carefully manage their products. Another outbreak of mad cow disease, they say, would be a death blow to the industry.
During the years that U.S. beef has been banned, the Korean Hanwoo beef’s price has skyrocketed. Treating the family to beef has become “a rice cake in the picture,” or a dream.
Pessimists, however, are localists. They try hard not to see the strong points of the “fleet-style” management of the conglomerates, a key spur to Korea’s rapid growth.
They recognize the problems with the British and the U.S.-style management models, in which companies are mostly obsessed with short-term capital gains and fail to make long-term investments, a habit that creates financial bubbles.
But the localists still argue that management rights should only be based on the ratio of shares owned, something that does not exist anywhere in the world.
To hold their position, the localists must explain why the Samsung shares did not plummet when Lee was indicted. The verdict of worldwide investors shows confidence, not skepticism, in Samsung.
Consumers have also weighed in, snapping up Samsung products wherever they are sold.
The localists who also object to U.S. beef imports face another question. Two million Korean residents and students in the United Sates have consumed U.S. beef without a problem. In fact, there’s not a case of anyone coming down with mad cow disease from the consumption of U.S. beef.
Further, the World Organization for Animal Health has categorized U.S. beef as safe. Following that decision, many countries, including Canada and Mexico, resumed unrestricted U.S. beef imports.
Will the localists argue that the World Organization for Animal Health has been bribed by the U.S. livestock industries and the public servants of Canada and Mexico have caved in at the expense of their people’s heath?
There are some people who have a positive view towards Samsung, but are skeptical of beef imports.
They are narrow-minded nationalists. They are similar to the Chinese who attacked Koreans earlier this month when the Beijing Olympic torch traveled through Seoul.
The narrow-minded nationalists wildly favor anything Korean, but strike down anything foreign.
Localists and nationalists exist in any society, but for Korea to move forward, globalization of Korean society’s intellectual openness and maturity is the key.
*The writer is the dean of the Ewha Womans University Graduate School of International Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Byung-il