[Outlook]The northern frontier

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[Outlook]The northern frontier

Just like that, Seoul Police Chief Kim Seok-ki was gone. His departure was either due to President Lee Myung-bak’s limitations or the current state of constitutionalism in our country. Some may applaud the decision, but many feel sorry for Kim.

Either way, it’s over.

The concept of conservatism involves accepting reality and seeking better ways under given circumstances.

In this time of crisis, our nation is in turmoil due to domestic issues. We’ve seen violence in the National Assembly and a fatal fire in Yongsan. These could have been handled in a quiet, reasonable manner but they erupted into violence because of our limits.

But are we hearing the alarms that such incidents are setting off? What if the warnings keep coming, but we don’t hear them?

I’m hearing warnings about trade protectionism from many countries in the world. This means that difficulties lie ahead for us, as we’re heavily dependent on exports.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the United States and many European countries retreated to trade protectionism, cutting the total trade volume in the world by a whopping 60 percent.

In the Davos Forum in Switzerland held in late January, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain warned about a possible anti-globalization trend and condemned protectionism in trade and financial sectors.

But after he returned home, he had to say that the country should give jobs in Britain to British workers.

The U.S. Congress also inserted a “Buy America” clause into the recently approved bill aimed at stimulating the economy using almost $800 billion.

If trade protectionism intensifies, export-led economies like ours are likely to be the most damaged. Japan’s trade volume is also huge, but trade accounts for only around 10 percent of its entire economy. Our neighbor would be damaged less than us, as around 40 percent of our gross domestic product comes from exports.

We need to watch carefully to see if the world is moving toward a protectionist trend, away from the neoliberalism that lasted through the last three decades.

If that happens, how can we survive?

We need to think seriously about this issue. Exports are vital, but we need to increase domestic consumption.

I believe that the time has come to look at North Korea from this perspective. The North can be our new frontier.

Just as the American West was the U.S. economy’s frontier in the late 19th century, North Korea can serve as ours in the 21st century.

North Korea can provide opportunities as one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. If its economy is incorporated into ours, the domestic economy will become as big as the U.K., France or Italy and our domestic market will become bigger and stronger.

Some might point out that this is a far-fetched idea when the North is planning a clash over the border line in the Yellow Sea and preparing for a missile test.

They might also say that North Korea wouldn’t be much help to us when it can’t even support itself.

And they would be right.

My idea will remain far-fetched as long as the North doesn’t change. However, we need to change our thoughts and attitudes along with global trends.

We should be preparing ourselves for the impossible, even if we can never imagine such a thing could happen. We should no longer regard North Korea as a burden. We should take the perspective that we need to support the North, if for nothing else but our own survival.

Based on the experience of the past decade, South Koreans do not want to blindly provide aid to North Korea.

Our own country becomes divided when the administration makes political calculations on how to handle North Korea.

The administration may wait for the North Korean regime to change, but the private sector must constantly increase exchanges with and support for North Korea.

Our country has been able to develop so far thanks to neoliberalism and globalization of the past 30 years. If we look at things from a broader perspective, we are grateful that we have established a firm foundation during that period.

We should also be grateful that we have a way out.

If we get caught up in the increasing selfishness of many countries, we would be ridiculed as nothing but fools.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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