[Viewpoint] Korea can no longer delay reform

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[Viewpoint] Korea can no longer delay reform

Our history can sometimes feel both laden with burdens and bursting with pride. We are awash with strong feelings of worth when we look back at how much we have accomplished in the past century.

Yet, we cannot shake lingering pangs of regret in our hearts.

We cannot have anything but mixed emotions of frustration and sadness when we recall that 100 years ago yesterday independence activist Ahn Jung-geun, a guardian of national pride, shot down the country’s enemy.

Nor can we forget that seven decades later, President Park Chung Hee, the forerunner of Korea’s modern industrialization, was gunned down.

A country can travel on different paths depending on the heroic or tragic features of its leader.

But the big picture teaches us that it is a solid national system that can guarantee the security and progress of a community, rather than an individual action.

General Ahn Jung-geun is undeniably one of our country’s greatest heroes and pioneers, who reignited national pride and a resistance movement at a time when the country was on the verge of annexation. He killed a Japanese leader who was behind that country’s intent to colonize Korea. Yet despite his courage and martyrdom for killing a nobleman, Korea was nevertheless annexed during the same year.

In the early 20th century, Korea was too rigid and primitive to comprehend and act against imperialism until it was too late.

Through colonization that stripped our national identity and a civil war that cut our land and people in half, we have learned of the suffering a state brings upon its people when it lacks the ability to reform and remain competitive in the global jungle.

President Park Chung Hee was a leader who understood that strengthening the state’s foundation and functions were the most important elements in taking on the challenges of modern history.

He kept closely to heart history’s wretched lesson of how the country fell prey to the colonial ambition of Japan, a country that made itself strong and competitive through industrialization and aggressive engagement of Western civilization.

This awareness was the engine behind his industrialization drive.

He drove the country often harshly and yet few argue that his experimentation with modernization, albeit often at the expense democracy, was a successful contribution to the country’s development.

He, however, lacked the political wisdom and aptitude to push the country’s economic level to the next stage. In the end, he fell because he fatally neglected to prepare himself against the wave of democracy spurred on after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

Reform and reorganization are pivotal every time history turns a new corner.

American economist Jeffrey Sachs recently called for strengthening of the G-20 framework, or collaboration of global action, believing it can assure global prosperity.

Yet he urged all the 20 members of developed and emerging economies to upgrade institutions inherited from the past century to better meet 21st-century challenges.

“The G-20 at this point is a motley group of imperfect political systems, none of which functions all that well,” he said.

His critique particularly strikes a chord with us.

It is quite meaningful that we are hosting a G-20 meeting next year. But our political reality remains embarrassingly wanting.

We can no longer tolerate all-talk and no-action politicians who collaborate to limit reform and restructuring when it suits their interests.

Everyone agrees on the imperative need of remaking the state system.

We should waste no time in rewriting the Constitution, the foundation of the country’s structure, and redraw the administrative districts to meet the standards of an advanced society.

Most of all we must redo the electorate system to hone politics deemed now to be outdated and obsolete.

This year only has two months left before it fades into history.

We have urgent political issues, like budget reviews and the question of relocating the government.

But we can no longer defer reform work that can determine our country’s future.

We hope the National Assembly can at least form special committees to start gathering opinions and mustering strength for constitutional amendments and other political reforms during this session.

*The writer is a former prime minister and an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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