[Outlook]A third national crisis?The world is changing fast. In many cases, people’s thoughts cannot catch up with recent rapid changes unprecedented in the past. The Korean society has undergone evolutionary changes compared to a decade ago.
A decade ago, the winds of globalization were not so strong as now. It was only 13 years ago when we faced a global pressure to open the nation’s entire agriculture sector after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round. The Korean economy has seen such remarkable growth and progress due to exportation, and as we had to continue to increase our export levels, we had no choice but to lower the protection barrier for the nation’s farming sector.
Until mid 1997, the Korean economy was praised as the model of economic development. It was only 11 years ago when the Korean economy collapsed owing to the devastating financial crisis of December 1997. Financial integration was a global phenomenon and large amounts of short-term speculative funds were spreading across borders throughout Asia via the computer monitor in the twinkling of an eye. However, Korean policymakers did not strive to enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness and passed time aimlessly. In this vein, it is natural that the nation had to undergo all the troubles under the second shock of the globalization.
Third, Korea faces challenges from Free Trade Agreements. As the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations were in a deadlock due to complicated relationships with economic interest groups, every nation was concentrating its efforts on concluding bilateral free trade agreements with each country. However, Korea, one of the world’s biggest trading countries, lagged behind badly. Although belated, Korea concluded a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Chile, and was taking appropriate steps to complete the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. In this process, the escalating dispute concerning the government’s controversial U.S. beef import deal broke out.
Korea is a resource-scarce country of 100,000 square kilometers in size, with a population of 47 million. There is only one way to survive - promote the nation’s commercial operations. We live in an era of national income of 20,000 dollars per capita, because our strategy proved a huge success in terms of developing our commercial operations on a global scale. No other strategic alternatives (of which there are in reality many) will do, except this way. The question is that globalization is posing short-term shocks and conflicts to our society, even though it is inevitable for successful commercial results. For example, export-oriented conglomerates will gain benefits, while farmers in terms of the global pressure for agricultural opening, unemployed laborers in times of the 1997 financial crisis, those who engaged in weak industries under the influence of the concluded FTAs are in opposition to globalization.
Against this backdrop, it is imperative that the government should be well prepared to cope with the social uproar. First, the government should reconsider whether it is implementing its policies in a way that embraces the unprivileged and bolsters the entire nation’s co-prosperity. If there are no enough complementary measures - such as re-education, vocational training, social welfare policies for the poor and the disadvantaged in our society, the national strategies for globalization will be seen for boosting well-being for a small majority of rich people, not for the entire nation.
Second, how democratic are the process and procedures to help absorb the shocks of globalization? Korea’s democracy is totally different, compared to a decade ago. Korea’s presidents have been elected through a direct popular election since 1987. However, the basic principles of democracy, decentralization and check of power, function better in reality than ever since recent years. Now, such national authorities as Prosecution, National Tax Service, and National Intelligence Service enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy from the President. The cozy relations between politics and business are weakening; and the press is divided into two types: conservative and progressive camps. But perhaps, the most important feature is a growth in online media. They have great influences upon the agenda setting in our society. Whoever can create a new movie using his mobile phone camera and upload to an internet webpage. In addition, tens of thousands of people watch it and pour in to the open ground in front of the city hall in an instant. These transformations toward a new political structure became an invariable number that can not be revoked.
Now, the Korean society requires a strong political leadership. The national leader is required to make his utmost efforts to maximize our benefits by promoting international negotiations in a careful and productive manner, overcome problems and side effects in a democratic way, and integrate the entire people, let alone catch up with the latest developments toward the globalization. A major culprit behind the ongoing controversy over U.S. beef import in Korea was a lack of such productive leadership.
Then, what shall we do? First, we need to embrace a newly changed political structure as it is, from now on. And a new system should be developed to facilitate the active communications with the people within the new structure. No matter how justifiable the international negotiations are, the leader should have enough prior consultations with the people on those questions: why is it necessary?; what ripple effects it would bring to our society; and how well the government is prepared to cope with such changes. In this process, the National Assembly and policies should serve as a leading role to revive normal political operations. Second, before the leader makes a political decision on the global negotiations, he should listen courteously from public officials and experts. The leader should be well aware of the fact that if we set a deadline, the results of negotiations might be unsatisfactory. Finally, the leader should hire people from a wide range of fields to listen a variety of voices from all areas of the society.
Now, there are more daunting challenges facing us - stagnant world economy, global oil crisis, crop crisis, and convention on climate change. Unless we cope with such problems with a new idea and system, I am concerned that the American beef controversy might be linked to anti-U.S. sentiments and anti-globalization conflicts, leading to the second, and the third national crisis.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-kwan