[Viewpoint] Who will raise the alarm?

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[Viewpoint] Who will raise the alarm?

For most Koreans, it is almost unimaginable that the supporters of President Lee Myung-bak and loyalists of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun would have anything in common. However, the situation appears to be different when viewed from outside the country.

In reporting on the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, the Japanese media gave us a glimpse of Japan’s envy of the Korean presidents’ leadership. While they focus on what the Lee administration achieved in concluding the deal, they praised the determination of Roh in getting it signed in the first place. The Sankei Shimbun reported that it was the Roh administration that made the political decision to pave the way for the deal by opening up the agricultural market, while the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that Roh faced severe criticism from his supporters including farmers and labor unions but did not step back.

Sometimes, it is necessary to see the forest and not the trees. Korea’s opposition parties should pay attention to these foreign views.

The Japanese media’s views are based on the growing sense of frustration with the Naoto Kan administration for having failed to find a political party with which to form an alliance for six months. The Kan administration has recently returned to the possibility of forming an alliance with the Socialist Democratic Party.

Claiming that Japan will open its doors for a third time, Tokyo had made public its intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Japan was not allowed to join the meeting of the nine TPP countries just four days ago, not even as an observer, because the Japanese government has had an equivocal attitude toward joining the TPP and succumbed to political pressure from lawmakers whose supporters are mainly farmers and fishermen.

In Japan, the agriculture and fishery industry comprises 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product and the farming and fishing population of 2.6 million comprises 2.5 percent of voters. Because of the political pressure from the agriculture and fishery industries, the Japanese government has been unable to make any progress on joining the TPP, a move supported by 52 percent of the population, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun’s poll. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of the population opposes Japan’s membership in the TPP. As politicians run about in confusion, there are growing concerns that Japan will become further estranged globally.

It is nothing new for Korea to receive praise from others. But Japan is particularly sensitive about Korea’s achievements. Japan suffered humiliation in a recent territorial dispute with China, while Korea concludes the trade agreement with the United States. In the Asian Games, Japan was ranked a distant third, while Korea was ranked second. Perhaps Japan feels that it is losing to Korea in politics, the economy and now in sports. On Nov. 10, the Mainichi Shimbun ended one of its columns with a comment lamenting “since when has Japan become a country chasing after Korea? What has gone wrong?”

When a country hits a dead end, someone always rings an alarm bell. This is the job of the leader, or at the very least he must act quickly after hearing the alarm bell being rung by others. A few days ago, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “So 50 years later, our generation’s Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment.” It is a warning from him.

In 1957, the Soviet Union succeeded in being the first to get to space with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. That forced the United States to expend all of its energy to compete in the space race, but as a result, the United States was the first to land on the moon. Citing that history, Obama said that it is time for the United States to invest heavily in education and research and development. And whenever Obama talks about education, he praises Korea’s attention to education. However, that alone is not something to be happy about.

In Japan, people have been ringing alarm bells since the late 1980s. In his book “Why Will Japan Collapse?” renowned Japanese economist, mathematician and econometrician Michio Morishima wrote that Japan would fail if it continued to go down the same path. He advised Japan to repent for its history and argued for the formation of a Northeast Asian community comprised of Japan, China, the two Koreas and Taiwan.

It is good to become the subject of envy. And yet we must think about whether we do not need an alarm bell at this moment. Is it normal to hear the noise from lawmakers’ brawls at the National Assembly, rather than the sound of the alarm? Do we really need any more alarming a sound than the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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