[Outlook]The policy of honestyThe milk scandal in China has sent ripples around the globe. It is reported that the chemical melamine was found not only in milk powder but also in yogurt, ice cream and milk. Products were exported to other countries such as Taiwan, Burundi, Yemen and Myanmar. More than 6,200 babies have been found to have kidney stones and the death toll has increased to four as of yesterday. Korea is urgently checking whether China’s diary products have entered the Korean market.
Greed is behind this incident. Milk farmers are thought to have watered down milk and then added melamine to boost the protein content.
Melamine is used to make plastics and, if consumed, can cause stones in the bladder or kidney. The chemical is also though to be carcinogenic. Since China has also produced fake eggs, we wonder if there is anything that China can’t fake.
However, one can find hope. Since Deng Xiaoping took power China has started to change. Deng took power in 1981, only 27 years ago. The country is now confident enough to unveil embarrassing stories like the milk fiasco.
Problems tend to get worse if they are hidden away but they might be solved if they are brought into the open.
For instance, Samsung Electronics was motivated to become a top-class company after the company admitted in 1993 that its laundry machines were not being made as well as they could. It was open about its mistakes and solved the problem.
The earthquake in Tangshan, China, in 1976 killed 270,500, but the Chinese authorities hid the fact. They were more worried about the possibility of public unrest and the safety of the regime than rescuing people.
This response to a natural disaster stands in stark contrast to the recent Sichuan earthquake, footage of which CCTV broadcast live around the country.
President Hu Jintao flew to the area and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao shed tears and cheered on the rescue workers. In doing so, China earned more than it lost. The biggest gain of all was international trust in the country’s transparency.
These changes have not taken place overnight. It is hard to expect rapid transformations from an emperor-like regime in which even natural disasters are associated with the ruler’s lack of integrity and thus reporting news about such calamities would damage the deified ruler.
Deng ended this practice. In 1982, he banned worshipping a dictatorship and made the country’s leader retire after one term. He prohibited the president from serving more than two consecutive terms. He made sure that a person over 70 years old or anyone who had already served once was not to be employed as member of the Politburo.
Thanks to this, Jiang Zemin transferred power to Hu and now the next Xi Jinping regime is under preparation. Although the Chinese system is different from U.S.-style democracy, both are transparent, publicized and predictable.
Rumors about the health of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il are swirling. One rumor goes that he has already handed over power and another has it that he had an operation and is recuperating.
Hyon Hak-bong, deputy director-general for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said on Sept. 19 at Panmunjeom that the rumors were spun by those who wish something bad on North Korea. But Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il’s first son, is reported to have said to a Chinese government official, “Thanks for your concern. It seems that we can’t do much about aging.” This seems to indicate that there is something wrong.
The North Korean authorities take this stance because of the characteristics of their regime. When the regime is ruled by a single person, the leader’s health threatens the survival of the entire nation.
North Korea has tried several times to open its doors just as China did. But it gave up every time. Kim Il Sung made his son his heir in the 1970s.
Compared to China, which started to reform in the 1980s and has undertaken significant changes, Kim Jong-il’s era has been a failure. There was a news report recently that he was enraged to hear that even his military officials are starving.
It is hard to believe that he didn’t know the situation until recently. North Korea has poured all its energy into developing nuclear weapons while putting its people’s lives at stake.
Kim Jong-nam is also reported to have said that it was impossible to pass power to the third generation. Some experts say a group leadership is already in operation while others think Kim Jong-il’s concubine Kim Ok will take over, as did Jiang Qing, the woman who took power during the Cultural Revolution in China.
It is none of our business who takes power. But we hope that North Korea won’t let its people starve, like China did during the Cultural Revolution. North Korea doesn’t need to set out an adventure into the unknown.
It can just follow China’s footsteps. Neither China nor the United States wants the North to collapse and South Korea is willing to provide help as long as North Korea doesn’t want confrontation.
*The writer is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook