Tough road ahead

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Tough road ahead

A new year has dawned, bringing with it resolutions to leave behind past regrets and work toward creating a better tomorrow.

History has certainly been hard on the Korean people, and 2011 likely won’t be a walk in the park, either. The dark clouds gathering on the northern side of the border are ominous. North Korea is a time bomb waiting to explode. It’s run by an erratic regime that is bent on reaching the impossible twin goals of developing a strong nation by next year and ensuring a smooth father-to-son power transition.

At the same time, the Korean Peninsula has become a tinderbox that North Korea can ignite at any time.

It’s a fair bet that China won’t step down as North Korea’s patron. The Asian giant will likely become more assertive in 2011 as it looks to reshape the world order, which the United States has long dominated. The Republicans now wield more power in the U.S. Congress, and Washington likely will be focused on year-end general elections.

A country cannot prosper without the assurance of peace and security. If we do not address the North Korean problem quickly, we may have to pay a heavier price later. Simply tolerating North Korea is not a wise strategy.

We should fortify our borders and at the same time strengthen our efforts to ease tensions, using a two-track approach that involves bolstering security and employing flexible diplomacy. The goal is to make North Korea think twice about another provocation but at the same time leave the door open to dialogue.

Six-party talks must also resume so all neighboring countries can work together to diffuse the situation.

Our economic prospects are not entirely bleak. Even with looming external threats, the economy is expected to grow by more than 4 percent this year. But the global economy remains unstable, and the global trade imbalance resulting in part from China’s solid growth and sky-high raw material prices presents downside risk.

However, we have always overcome our challenges, and opportunities await us. Asia is quickly becoming the epicenter of global politics, and the Korean Peninsula is playing an increasingly important role from an international perspective. The stakes are high, but we are optimistic. As Admiral Yi Sun-shin said in 1592, “If we are willing to fight to the death, we shall live, and if we are not, we will perish.” That has been and still is the spirit of Korea.
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