[Viewpoint] End the internal war over Cheonan

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[Viewpoint] End the internal war over Cheonan

The topic was omnipresent. Since the night of Friday, March 26, the conversations of a nation have been wrapped around the warship Cheonan that sank in the waters near the maritime border off the west coast, and they have been saturated with theories of how or why it was destroyed. Everyone had something to say about the subject, and people rarely spoke of anything else.

As a result, when the wreckage of the Cheonan broke the waters of the sea, it also subsumed all the debates over the Sejong City development and four rivers restoration projects that had rattled our society. Simply put, no gray zone existed. You either supported the investigation’s conclusion that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan and the government’s stern determination to punish North Korea, or took the North’s side and turned against the government.

We reached the local elections still overwhelmed with the Cheonan debate. However, I personally think the Cheonan case now should stop dominating the front page. It’s not that Cheonan coverage should be reduced. I just don’t like all this war talk. It scares me.

What’s more scary, though, is the sharp social schism caused by the Cheonan disaster. It is disheartening to watch the South and North teetering on the brink of a war and, making matters worse, ourselves waging a war within with the blame game.

That’s why I want to raise the subject of an exit strategy for the Cheonan case. “Exit strategy,” now widely used as an economic term, has a military origin. In military jargon, it refers to the withdrawal of troops aimed at minimizing human and material losses.

Our strategy to pull out of the Cheonan quagmire should be similar to a course to end current loose economic policy. In the economy, liquidity can be tightened through a hike in interest rates, pulling money out of the market. But for such a move, timing is crucial. When authorities dilly-dally over an interest rate shift, asset prices can inflate, sending other prices higher. The stock and real estate markets can also fluctuate.

But moving too fast is equally risky as it can splash cold water on an economy just starting to reignite.

An exit strategy for the Cheonan situation should be an ebbing of the heated debates and the sharp differences in opinions.

Timing here also plays a crucial part. If we wait too long, the emotional spat could leave scars on our society.

But unlike in economics, the quicker we leave the current situation the better. If the Cheonan case served both ruling and opposition parties in their election campaigns, its service should end now that the election is over.

There can be many ways to “exit” from current situations. For the economy, raising interest rates is the most effective solution. Tightening the budget, curbing foreign currency supplies, and ending various tax incentives to boost investment are other means, which the authorities have already begun.

But the economy has not exactly turned a new leaf because interest rates remain untouched. The symbolic meaning of a rate hike is as important as its real effects on the economy. Even a small move can send a signal to the market that the economy can no longer expect stimuli.

The same can work for the Cheonan debacle. Sending the case to the United Nations Security Council and persuading China to join the move can, of course, be part of an exit strategy. But tossing the affair offshore does not end the affair at home.

We should rather unravel the case among ourselves. For instance, a public office reshuffle - at a national level, if possible - is an option. Who sits where should not be a problem. It shouldn’t matter if former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye is named the ambassador to China and former Gyeonggi governor Sohn Hak-kyu a prime minister. So what if main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Chung Se-kyun is made the ambassador to the United States and GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon the foreign minister?

The presidential office and ruling party have repeatedly said there can be no distance between the ruling and opposition parties in the face of a security crisis. They can show they were true to their words through a sweeping reshuffle.

Of course, this may be wishful thinking. The president and ruling party are now enjoying unprecedented public favor after the Cheonan sinking. In other words, they may have no reason at all to yield. The opposition also may not want to back down from its fervent ideological warfare. But they should find common ground. We don’t know when and how North Korea will hit us next. We cannot spend time and energy fighting among ourselves.

It would be totally pointless, foolish and simply exhausting to take the blame for North Korea’s wrongdoings.

*The writer is a business editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Yi Jung-jae
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