[Outlook]Opportunities in crisis

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[Outlook]Opportunities in crisis

All of China is racked with grief because of the earthquake that hit Sichuan Province. But, according to Chinese media reports, some scoundrels are trying to make money from the disaster. People are getting text messages on their mobiles that read, “Mom and Dad, I was injured in the earthquake and I’m in hospital. I need money for treatment, so please send some to this bank account. Hurry!” On the Internet, there are countless private Web sites claiming to be raising money to help victims of the earthquake.

To these people, a disaster is a great opportunity to make money. It seems some people find happiness in the misery of others.

The Chinese government is also seizing opportunities presented by the recent disaster. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China flew to Sichuan Province as soon as the earthquake hit. He met victims face to face, consoling them and trying to give them hope. The people were deeply moved. China designated the three days beginning May 19 a period for mourning for victims of the earthquake. It is the first time the Chinese government has set a national day of mourning since it was established.

At 2:28 p.m., May 19, one week to the minute after the earthquake struck, people across the country had a moment of silence for the victims. I was attending the Asia Media Forum in Tianjin at the time. The conference was halted at and those who were attending it also stopped to mourn.

Many worry about the Beijing Olympic Games, as the calamity broke out just 88 days before the international sports event is set to begin.

However, good things have come out of the disaster as well. I met Li Changchun, the fifth-ranked member of the Communist Party, at the party’s convention in Beijing on May 21. He said that the disaster had united China. Chinese across the country are expressing their condolences and raising aid money. Over a short period of time, hundreds of millions of yuan, or tens of millions of dollars, were raised. As people around the world now want to help China, negative images about the country have significantly dissipated. Major foreign media outlets, such as CNN, deliver breaking news about the earthquake day after day. As the Chinese government is seen to be managing the crisis well, disputes and concerns surrounding the Olympic Games have dwindled.

Let’s now take a look at Korea. Korea, too, is facing a crisis now. The people are terrified of mad cow disease and avian influenza has spread across the country. People say there is no food that they feel safe to consume. International oil prices are constantly surging and the exchange rate is getting weaker as well. Commodity prices are extremely high. Everything seems hostile both inside and outside the country.

But the government’s crisis management skills are practically nonexistent. Ministers fail to grasp what is going on and offend the people instead of solving the problems. The Lee Myung-bak administration has lost the trust and support of the people after less than 100 days in office.

Some administration members say this is unfair. As the presidential election and the legislative elections were held back to back for the first time in 20 years, there was no honeymoon period for the administration. In the 18th legislative elections, the ruling Grand National Party earned at least 153 seats, but the 17th National Assembly hasn’t ended yet. The ruling circle also laments that as bizarre and untrue stories about mad cow disease are spreading, the government is being criticized unreasonably. President Lee delivered an apology to the people on May 22. It is truly unusual that the president has to apologize to the people less than 100 days after being sworn in.

Still, it seems the people are doubtful whether he truly meant what he said. The president’s apology is not enough. The presidential secretaries, ministers and the GNP should also say they are sorry for what they have done.

For the past five years, Korea suffered because of the incompetent left-wing administration, so the people decided to replace the government. They did not expect to then get an incompetent right-wing administration. They didn’t want to go back to five or 10 years ago. They want the new administration to run state affairs in a more refined, professional way.

If we try to find one good thing about this crisis, it is that it occurred in the early phase of the administration. There is enough time to fix the wrongs. The administration can find opportunities in the crisis, unless it remains stubborn.

There is a Korean saying that goes, “If you’re going to be punished, it’s better to be punished sooner rather than later.”

I believe in the potential of Korea. I hope that the administration becomes stronger, having received its punishment early in its term.

*The writer is the editor of the special reporting team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Jang-hwan
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