[Viewpoint] It’s all about priorities

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[Viewpoint] It’s all about priorities

I once indicated that running a country boils down to choosing among priorities. However, we should realize that the subject of these choices is the general public. The Constitution, after all, states that “all power comes from the people.”

Therefore, people have tremendous power.

This year, we have a laundry list of national tasks that will require us to make difficult choices and decisions, which brings with it a huge sense of responsibility.

The public and politicians should ponder deeply over what we should be mindful of before placing priorities on the domestic, inter-Korean and global issues that we are confronted with.

The foremost task is to take a comprehensive view of these issues and then investigate thoroughly what will be required to effectively address them.

Secondly, the importance attached to each of these respective tasks should be evaluated from the comprehensive perspective of how they meld with the national interest. This can be done by flexibly connecting together issues pertaining to the domestic, inter-Korean and international realms.

We should then examine where Korea stands in terms of the policy priorities of major countries that can exert their influence over the Korean Peninsula and what measures should be taken to raise the nation’s status globally.

Unless endeavors taken by the nation and the people in these areas go smoothly, we will be unable to succeed in placing priorities on national tasks in a valid, effective and feasible manner. To this end, let us take a look at the aspects surrounding the choice of priorities related to Sejong City, the six-party talks, an inter-Korean summit meeting and the G-20 summit, which are some of the major issues of the day in Seoul.

The controversial Sejong City development has become an urgent issue, and efforts to revise the decision-making procedures for national tasks are in imminent peril.

This is no longer a simple matter of choice between the original proposal and the amendment.

Heated debates and aimlessly drifting confrontation will leave people unable to make adequate choices on the issue.

There are several questions we must now answer.

Should national and local interests be separately examined? Should the intrinsic validity and the procedural validity of the project be treated as totally separate matters? Should the trend of not deliberating the same measure twice in the same session during the administrative process at the national level continue?

In addition, there is the question of how to connect issues related to the advancement of inter-Korean relations, prospects for unification and Sejong City.

The general view is that tensions between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and North Korea have eased, and that all parties are gradually moving to a new phase of negotiations and dialogue, despite the saber rattling by the North recently.

More concretely, the North confirmed it is willing to return to the six-party talks during a visit by U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth to the country. Additionally, holding an inter-Korean summit now seems like an attainable goal after the recent talks in Singapore.

Against this backdrop, the two Koreas face a significant choice in priorities. The choice revolves around whether they will recognize - at least in principle - the effectiveness of the existing matters agreed upon between the two Koreas. It will inevitably be a difficult decision to make, one that requires considerable mediation and negotiation.

Above all, it will be extremely difficult for the North to reaffirm the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, translate the provisions into concrete actions and get North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit Seoul.

It also won’t be easy for Seoul to figure out how to deal with matters that the past two administrations in South Korea previously agreed upon with the North. Additionally, the South faces a difficult time in deciding to what degree it should provide assistance to the North for the sake of tangible cooperation.

The success of the six-party talks as well as bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea are integral parts of a complete resolution of the nuclear problem in regards to Pyongyang.

The United States and China hold the key to the resolution of this issue, and each should place a much higher priority on settling matters related to the fate of the Korean Peninsula. To do so, we should assume a more positive attitude in pursuing multifaceted unification diplomacy.

The G-20 meeting scheduled to be held in Seoul in November is expected to build a new international economic regime in the wake of the financial crisis and serve a pivotal role in resolving urgent tasks facing the international community.

The host country’s important role in this significant meeting provides us with numerous opportunities. We are already firmly committed to actively joining a concerted effort by the international community in various areas, such as UN peacekeeping operations, official development assistance and tackling climate change and global energy problems.

It is high time we raise Korea’s national prestige by making the best of this opportunity. This is the chance of a lifetime to take a significant step forward toward national unification and cement our status as a democratic nation. We should rely on our wisdom to build a well-made Sejong City, help inter-Korean relations enter a new phase and develop the respect of the global community.


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

by Lee Hong-koo

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