[Viewpoint] Real things we must defendWe were appalled by the sight of black smoke over Yeonpyeong Island after North Korea’s artillery barrage. We were outraged by North Korea’s brutality in firing recklessly at civilians and disappointed by our military’s feeble response. At the same time, we worried that the deadly provocation could lead to a full-scale confrontation. We feared that we would suddenly lose the luxury of peace, and parents with sons in the military went out of their minds with worry.
Some of the extreme pro-North Korean forces warned that Seoul would be turned into a “sea of fire” if South Korea retaliated. Even without their daunting words, war ghosts returned in force to haunt our society.
Some foreign media played up the tension, awed by the fact that the G-20 Summit was held just 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the heavily-armed border.
The Wall Street Journal Asia recently ran an article about the thriving city of Paju just a few miles from the demilitarized zone and within artillery range across the border. The city is one of the fastest growing municipalities, with its population growing over 80 percent in the past decade. It houses one of the world’s largest LCD factories and high-tech manufacturing lines as well as fancy high-rise apartments.
But just things seem normal doesn’t mean that people are not worried. Though not completely assured, the people want to believe in the deterrence capabilities of our military and that a full-scale war won’t take place. They are more hopeful than convinced that there won’t be a war.
People outside are bound to imagine South Koreans living in extreme anxiety and fear in the worst-ever postwar security crisis. It is true that South Koreans dread and want to avoid a war because they have much more to lose than their impoverished neighbors. But we are also people who accomplished stunning economic progress in the midst of persistent provocation and threat from North Korea. It would be a lie to say there was no fear of loss, but that has never stopped us from moving forward.
It is not just our economic achievements we want to defend. More important than high-rise buildings, cars and sophisticated factories are the system, ideology and will of the people that power our economic vitality. Buildings and factories can be rebuilt, but if the economic system, ideology or public will collapse, the economy loses the impetus to reset, not to mention to ever gain speed again.
There was a seminar recently to celebrate a government-published book on the 60-year trajectory of the South Korean economy and modernization. The book is a monumental collaboration among major state-run think tanks. Unfortunately, the hefty text fell short of fully explaining what exactly has been behind the country’s staggering economic progress. If we cannot pinpoint the factors that have characterized our economic development, we can hardly expect to hand down hereditary genes for success or teach underdeveloped countries what to learn from our achievements.
As a speaker at the seminar, I cited three elements behind our economic success.
The first is our choice of a free-market capitalist system. It may have been an inevitable byproduct of the American military presence in the South, but it was pivotal in separating South Korea’s economy from North Korea’s, which is run through rigid state control.
The second is attributed to strong leadership. We could not have enjoyed today’s economic status if not for President Park Chung Hee’s strong leadership of focusing the nation’s capabilities to pull the country out of poverty through industrialization. His role also distinguishes our economy from other countries that failed to prosper despite having a market economy.
Government investment in conglomerates and support for top corporate names is the third secret to our economic success.
Jwa Seung-hee, head of the Gyeonggi Research Institute, agrees that we need a new paradigm that explains South Korea’s success. Jwa sent a booklet detailing a new model for capitalism based on competition and responsibility. Economists should use this opportunity to initiate debate on a new economic development model. What we have accomplished is a legacy of success we can proudly hand down to the future generation.
We must be firm that no artillery from North Korea takes that away from us.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jong-soo