[Viewpoint]Hard at workLast weekend, I saw a photograph in the newspaper that was quite refreshing. South Korea’s president and first lady were waving from planeside before leaving for the G-20 Summit. Before those of you who are automatically turned off by the mention of the president jump to conclusions, please allow me to explain. The president was carrying a black briefcase, which impressed me very much. Has any president in the history of the Republic of Korea carried his own bag? Probably not. I bet many did not even own their own bags, much less carry them. If a president needed anything, he just asked one of his staff members.
You might ask why carrying a bag is such a big deal. You might say President Lee Myung-bak should focus on doing his job instead of carrying his bag. But I think the president’s briefcase is significant. The fact that he has broken with the authoritarian idea of having someone else carry his bag for him is pleasing, even if it is trivial. But the bag shows he is eager to take care of business. The president must be determined to accomplish whatever he’s working on.
The president must have been motivated by the chance to propose a solution to the international financial crisis in front of world leaders. He must be deeply moved that Korea is playing a role in the history of the global economy as the world seeks a change in the financial system. The briefcase must be full of documents related to the meeting, and he did not want to part with it for a second.
And I think the president was right to be so careful. Unlike the financial crisis 10 years ago, the recent financial and real economic crisis is not something we can overcome by ourselves. Both developed nations and emerging economies are tempted by protectionism, the beggar-thy-neighbor policy that exploits other countries’ sacrifices for economic recovery. We might have to renegotiate the free trade agreement with the United States with a new president in the White House.
As a member of the G-20 meeting, Korea is sharing the responsibility of tearing down the shortsighted trade barriers that could destroy the global economy and seeking alternatives. A great opportunity to confirm our international status as the world’s 13th largest economy stands before us. Naturally, the workaholic president’s morale is high and he maintains a tight hold on his briefcase.
But many will not agree with me. Perhaps the president was just pretending to be a hard worker, as the critics say. He might have accepted a suggestion from aides that foreign leaders carrying briefcases look eager and active. But that does not negate the significance of his act. After all, if you act young, you will feel young. Even if you are not interested in studying, if you carry a dictionary with you all the time, you won’t use it as a pillow. If there was actually an aide who recommended the president carry the briefcase, he did a good job. He deserves a compliment. If aides are free to make such suggestions in the Blue House, it is something we should truly celebrate.
It is not my aim to convince critics. I just hope the president keeps his morale and determination in his briefcase and stays sincere about doing his business. It would have been better if he had an old leather one, but a brand new briefcase is fine as long as it gets old through use by the time the president leaves office.
I want to end with a story. Once upon a time, Duke Ling of Wei and his wife heard the sound of a carriage outside in the middle of the night.
The man who was riding in it got out in front of the palace and carefully walked past. The duchess knew that it was state minister Qu Yuan just by what she heard. When the duke asked her how she knew, she said, “A wise man does not show his respect when it is light and neglect to do so when it is dark.” This is an episode from a Confucian code of conduct called the Lesser Learning, and it is the basic mindset we should all have.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom
More in Columns
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin