Parties must learn from mistakesPresident Lee Myung-bak and opposition Democratic Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu will meet on Monday. It will be the first meeting between the president and the opposition leader in nearly three years and only the third under the current administration.
The summit has a host of issues to be ironed out, but few expect a substantial breakthrough in the political impasse. The Democratic Party is most eager to campaign for cuts and subsidies on college tuition. The Blue House is touting legislative support and approval of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.
Both sides are currently far apart and won’t easily find middle ground. Sohn wants lower college tuition to kick in during the second half of this year and spread to all colleges next year. He proposed a tete-a-tete with President Lee to resolve the issue. But President Lee, in a cabinet debate, demanded cabinet members answer how the government plans to come up with the money to subsidize half of all university tuition fees.
Lee and Sohn possess acutely different stances on free trade as well. The president believes the country’s future depends on free trade deals that allow cheaper and greater access to global markets. He invited executive members of the legislature in the hope of mustering up support for the free trade pact with the U.S. by the end of August. But Sohn, on behalf of the opposition, has reiterated that the Korea-U.S. trade terms need to be renegotiated and rewritten.
But the two should not waste the rare occasion to reconfirm their differences and turn it into a political charade. Other issues - ways to deal with unemployment and mounting household debt - are urgent.
They should pay attention to the other’s words and be ready to yield. Previous talks failed because both parties showed little patience in understanding and compromise. Their first meeting, in May 2008, addressed the Korea-U.S. FTA but the two left without finding middle ground, leaving the free trade pact on thin ice for the past three years. The second meeting between Lee and Chung Sye-kyun ended amicably. But their cordiality did not go beyond the meeting.
The Blue House has a great opportunity. It must present feasible ideas. A breakfast meeting is not enough to settle all the problems. There must be working-level relations. Both sides should contemplate the failures of last two talks and learn from them, so they don’t make the same mistakes again.