[Viewpoint] Mob rule sabotages national interest

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[Viewpoint] Mob rule sabotages national interest

President Lee Myung-bak made headway on two key issues pending between Korea and the United States in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama at the G-20 Summit in Toronto last week.

The two leaders agreed to delay the timetable for the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korea’s forces by three years from the original date of April 2012. President Obama also pledged to push ahead with a long-deferred bilateral free trade agreement and to submit it to the U.S. Congress before the year’s end.

The two issues are part of the security and economic pillars of our relationship with the United States, and the Blue House hyped the “accomplishments” in Toronto.

But the opposition and some local media viewed the breakthroughs from a completely different angle. First, they accused the government of relinquishing our long-cherished military sovereignty by delaying the surrender of wartime military command of South Korean forces. The United States is now scheduled to hold on to that control for another three years. They also accused the government of surrendering the national interest in trade and public health by pushing the FTA.

According to their argument, the moratorium on the transfer of wartime command and the progress in the FTA are entirely advantageous to the United States and injurious to our country.

They would have been content if our side had reluctantly agreed to delay the wartime command schedule and the speeding up of the trade pact ratification. Lee should have returned home with new commitments from Washington, the argument goes, in return for yielding our stake in military issues, trade and public health. Since he didn’t, the opposition camp argues that the president has squandered our interests for nothing.

However, the United States thinks differently. Obama has given Lee generous gifts to take home as a symbol of the reinforced ties between the countries in the wake of the Cheonan sinking. In other words, Washington conceded to the delay in wartime control transfer at the cost of disturbing its broader overseas military reorganization, and also promised to push ahead with the trade pact despite political risks at home. The United States didn’t have to do either, yet it made concessions to help its ally.

With such radically different perspectives, the public cannot help but be confused about which country came out with the better deal.

To find the answer, we should parse the issues. The return of wartime command from U.S. forces was championed by former President Roh Moo-hyun to empower our nation with full control over its own military.

But the attack on the naval corvette Cheonan clearly shows that our military cannot deter military provocation from North Korea alone. Regaining military sovereignty should happen after we are fully able to protect our citizens’ lives and assets on our own.

In the meantime, we are more secure in knowing that U.S. forces are ready to join us in the event of an armed conflict. So the delay in wartime command is necessary to protect the greater assets and rights of our country. The guarantee of security is a realistic - and inevitable - choice over a face-saving one.

The bilateral FTA was also sought and finalized by the Roh administration. Roh, despite criticism from his anti-American supporters, argued that the benefits of a pact with the U.S. would be much greater than any losses incurred. Korea may be just one of the U.S.’s trading partners, but as an export-driven economy, we cannot afford to lose the world’s biggest consumer market. To be honest, we need the deal more desperately than the Americans.

Yet the opposition and liberal camps rail against the recent summit agreement as the “diplomacy of humiliation.” They mislead the public with provocative slogans such as “surrender of national rights.” To some members of the public, the simple word “surrender” has more power than a complicated discussion of our national interests.

The opposition parties appear to be having fun with sloganeering. They reaped political gains with such cries during the protests against U.S. beef imports and the Sejong City project. It is hard to get out of such a propaganda trap, because reason can be eclipsed by laments that the public interest is more precious than selling a few more cars. Having to refute allegation after allegation can be trying and futile.

The campaigns of distortion and negativity have found a new target in the government’s four rivers project. The project has long been stigmatized as a destroyer of the waterways and the environment around them. With a little more time and effort, the opposition is confident of killing the project altogether.

No state interest will survive if they continue to be sabotaged by mob rule. At the end of the day, the country and future generations will have to pay the price.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jong-soo
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