[Viewpoint]A balancing act

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[Viewpoint]A balancing act

I am not intending to address in this space details of the recent chaos regarding U.S. beef imports. However, there is a need to look at this issue from a long-term, broader perspective. The U.S. beef import issue illustrates both the good and bad sides of globalization and the complicated paradox between globalization and democratization.
Globalization cuts both ways, and it has created complicated issues in Korea because the country has already become democratized. As seen in the chaos over beef imports, globalization concerns not only companies and the government but also ordinary citizens’ lives.
The citizens’ fervent protest against the government’s hasty decision to open our beef market symbolizes democracy, which puts pressure on globalization.
The presence of countless Chinese students in Korea mirrors our nation’s elevated status in the 21st century, but the Chinese students have been marginalized in our democracy. Koreans were eager to accept Chinese students in our schools but had little interest in infusing them with democratic values and building relations with them, which would increase our soft power.
In short, the formula for a virtuous circle where globalization and democratization exist in harmony hasn’t been found yet.
On the one hand, some argue naively that opening our markets and boosting our competitiveness on the global stage are the only ways for us to survive.
But it is hard to persuade citizens with such simple optimism as they have developed the capacity to criticize the wrongs in society over the past 20 years.
On the other hand, some argue unrealistically that it is better to close our doors completely, creating security and happiness on the Korean Peninsula, even if that means sacrificing a chance to increase our status in the world.
A naive belief in globalization and blind opposition to opening our doors should be overcome, and the two mainstreams — globalization and democratization — must converge into one.
The task of finding a golden balance does not belong to the Lee Myung-bak administration alone. As our country is deeply involved with the outside world and enjoys a dynamic democracy, the future of our country depends on accomplishing this task.
At least two things must change. First, before the government attempts to open our markets, it needs to be in line with people’s changing values. The government’s priorities are restoring the economy, opening up our markets and then persuading the people to come on board.
However, the people would want them first to improve the quality of life, then restore the economy and finally open our markets.
The differences in values must be reconciled. As the citizens have enjoyed sustained growth and the benefits of democracy, they prioritize the right to security, autonomy and a clean environment.
In the 21st century, one of the main issues in global politics is for governments to get in touch with values in everyday life.
Last week, leaders in China and Japan met in Tokyo and released a joint declaration, which included a clause that they would try to improve food security.
This indicates that issues in everyday life have become very important in the political arena. England’s Conservative Party is expected to assume power again after having been in opposition for a long time. The party’s new catchphrase is to put everyday life and society at the center of politics.
The party is winning over voters’ hearts with a simple slogan, promising to seek security for families and neighborhoods and restore strong bonds between them.
Second, citizens need to change along with the government. As the recent chaos over U.S. beef imports has clearly showed, the government can’t conduct diplomacy and open our doors in secret.
Globalization policies are in the public sphere of democratization and are drawing the people’s interest. Citizens must ensure that this public sphere is a place for public debate where participation and a sense of responsibility co-exist.
It is not good if all that exists are candlelight vigils and anonymous Internet postings.
Rational discussion and responsible action can prop up democracy.
Globalization and democratization must not hinder one another. Instead, a win-win solution must be found, which is certainly difficult to achieve.
The case of Singapore, which embraced globalization while sacrificing democracy, is not an ideal alternative for Korea. Some South American countries have given up globalization and clung to democracy. As a result they live with freedom, but also in poverty.
This is not the right direction for us, either. We Koreans must be patient and trust one another. Then we can find a way to avoid having competing values tear us apart.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jaung Hoon
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