[Viewpoint]The way we were

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[Viewpoint]The way we were


The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games was a shock to many Koreans who watched it on television. [YONHAP]

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games was a shock to many Koreans who watched it on television. I had the feeling that the Chinese people were shouting out in unison, “This is the power of China!” during the event. My memory slipped 15 years back, recalling a similar feeling.

Right after the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and China, I was in a restaurant in Beijing in the spring of 1993. It was right after the ground-breaking ceremony of a factory in which a Korean company invested $20 million. At that time, $20 million was enough money to warrant a police escort for our bus through morning rush hour traffic.

While communicating with a restaurant waiter by writing Chinese characters on a napkin, I asked, “Wealthiest country in the world?” The waiter wrote without hesitation, “South Korea.” This response was due to the self-described rich Koreans who spent money extravagantly in China around the time of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

A little while later, although I hadn’t asked any question, the waiter wrote on the napkin, “The future wealthiest country in the world is China,” looking me straight in the eyes. China’s per capita gross national product at the time was less than one tenth of South Korea’s.

I also remembered another time four years ago. In 2004, I was attending a journalism course in the United States, when I met a Chinese student. She said her husband and daughter lived in Sichuan Province and that she was in the United States alone on a government scholarship to learn about the country. Although she had to work at the student cafeteria as a cleaner to earn extra money, she still wounded my pride by saying, “China is the center of the world.”

That year, the New York Times published a special series on China. In January 2005 it also carried a report on the results of an opinion poll wherein more than half of American university students surveyed chose China as the country that would overrun the United States in the next ten years.

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics recalled a series of past impressions of China in my mind. It is quite apparent that after the Olympics, China will start to spread Chinese ideas more aggressively than it did before. We might have to face stronger economic and diplomatic battles with China than we had with Japan over the Dokdo islets.

Then I come to realize how important it is for the Lee Myung-bak administration to have diplomatic ability.

Frankly speaking, the present government is unlucky. It was robbed of a honeymoon period, in which trial and error in the beginning of a new administration can usually be forgiven. It had to struggle to clear the aftermath of a series of incidents before it could even get rid of the “student driver” label. There has been a flood of criticism about the mistakes committed by the government thus far. However, I am of the opinion that it should now be given a chance to reflect on its failures.

In the Olympics, athletes compete in different categories and their ranking is decided through intense athletic competition. The competition is pure and simple. Throughout the Olympics, we can experience the thrill of competition that we fail to appreciate in our daily lives due to social conflicts that absorb our attention.

Doesn’t the sense of competition feel even stronger this year than at previous Olympic Games because it is being held in China, a country with which Korea has shared 5,000 years of history?

It is most important for the government to realize that the Lee Myung-bak administration’s opponents are not the ideologues of the opposition or the previous administration. Fighting against and prevailing over the progressives in South Korea can’t be the goal of a pragmatic government. When it is, half of the Korean people will instantly turn away. We have already witnessed a similar situation in the past five years under the previous government.

The worst thing about an internal ideological battle is that the hypothesis is emphasized more than the truth, and emotion overshadows reason.

At a time like this, the president should recall the time when he resolved to adopt pragmatism as the national agenda, rather than fighting an ideological war.

At that time, they might not have intended to create a fractured society that suffers from conflicts and confrontations between rival factions. This is the reason why it is dangerous to make such a policy goal public.

“The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has decided to introduce an incentive system under which 20,000 won [$19] will be given to riot police for taking a protester to the police station and 50,000 won will be awarded for an arrest,” Lee said.

It is even more regrettable to hear our president make such a statement to please the president of another country.

“Many people came to Seoul City Hall Plaza yesterday to welcome President Bush. There were some protesters in the back, but the number was limited,” he also said.

*The writer is the deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Seung-hee
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