[Viewpoint] Rescue efforts invisible, or lacking?

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[Viewpoint] Rescue efforts invisible, or lacking?

A few days ago we all witnessed former United States President Bill Clinton flying across the Pacific Ocean to Pyongyang and returning smoothly after rescuing two U.S. citizens and journalists, a Chinese-American and a Korean-American journalist, in only 18 hours. In contrast, there is a citizen of the Republic of Korea who is virtually abandoned as his whereabouts are unknown as he’s been detained in Kaesong, less than an hour away from Seoul, for over 130 days. Is the “price of a citizen” in the U.S. and Korea different, indeed?

We, Koreans, pay our taxes faithfully. We serve in the military. When the country’s economy was on the verge of collapse, we dug out and donated gold rings received as a first birthday present for our kids. However, at the time of an emergency, we are not protected. 130 days is more than four months. Inter-Korean relations might be unprecedentedly uncomfortable, but this is no better than negligence. When your dog goes missing, you would make every effort to find it, even offering reward money. What has the Korean government done for the Korean citizens detained in the North? Is the government saying that a Korean citizen is not as important as a missing dog?

Upon returning from vacation, President Lee Myung-bak emphasized that the government is exploring all the possible ways to save the Kaeseong Industrial Complex worker detained in the North for over 130 days and the crew members of recently captured fishing boat “800 Yeonan.” However, we have no idea what efforts the government has made.

What the government has been doing is pressing Pyongyang to release the detained Korean citizens. The Blue House spokesman Lee Dong-gwan said, “Just because you don’t see anything on the surface, you often fail to notice the movements beneath the water.” However, if such efforts have been made underwater, we would at least see some ripples. Pressuring the president of Hyundai Asan to visit the North is not likely to lead to a resolution. Such a tepid measure cannot help melt the frozen relationship.

“Dear Chairman Kim Jong-il. I am Park Mi-ryeong, the daughter of Park Gwang-seon, captain of the 800 Yeonan, which crossed the Northern Limit Line due to defects and a malfunction of the satellite navigation system on the morning of July 30, 2009. My father had been experiencing financial constraints after a number of failed trips with very low catches. The crewmembers must have felt troubled when they went out fishing that morning, and they ended up crossing the Northern Limit Line unintentionally due to a mechanical malfunction. Please send the crewmembers of the 800 Yeonan back to their families. Chairman Kim, please help the families with their devastating pain.”

Park Mi-ryeong, who posted the above letter on the homepage of the families of those abducted by North Korea, is a citizen of the Republic of Korea. Then why is she pleading to Kim Jong-il, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, not the President of the Republic of Korea, whose foremost duty is to protect the life and property of the citizens? To her, the president and the government of the Republic of Korea have done nearly nothing but talk.

At the end of the plea, she added, “Dear President Lee Myung-bak, I beg the government to constantly make visible efforts to facilitate the timely return of all the crew members of the 800 Yeonan.” While she desperately appealed to Chairman Kim Jong-il in detail, she wrote one sentence to President Lee Myung-bak. And her call for “visible efforts” sounds like a reproach.

The Lee Myung-bak administration has been saying he advocates for “common people” for some time now. The ruling Grand National Party came up with a catchphrase, “On the side of the common people, from A to Z.” The ruling party seems to enjoy increased popularity with this emphasis. However, what the government and the ruling party really need to care for are not the common people but all the citizens. President Lee Myung-bak needs to identify himself as “pro-citizen,” not “pro-common people.”

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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