[Viewpoint] In need of politics of compromise

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[Viewpoint] In need of politics of compromise

A sailboat might find itself lost at sea if the family aboard is too busy fighting among themselves to care where they are headed. The ship carrying Korean society has also lost its sense of direction, swept up in the election turmoil.

Economic calamities have struck the entire global community, taking their toll on various corners of society and causing political disasters. An alternative, multinational leadership establishment to replace American supremacy has yet to appear, aggravating unrest in international politics due to the escalating tension of war among second-tier powers.

Renowned political scientist and statesman Zbigniew Brzezinski in a recent article warned of a dangerously unstable world in the age of U.S. decline. He predicted a protracted phase of inconclusive realignments of both global and regional power with no grand winners and many more losers in a setting of uncertainty. Countries geographically close to major regional powers could become more vulnerable in proportion to America’s decline, he said, naming South Korea and Taiwan as equivalents of nature’s most endangered species.

Having experienced the disgrace of colonization in the age of imperialism and pain from bisection as a result of the Cold War, we have become structurally sensitive to the geopolitical climate among major and neighboring powers. We must not forget that the U.S., Japan, China and Russia dominate the world’s top rankings in economic and military power and are much bigger than us; they can even wield more influence over the fate of the Korean Peninsula. The relationship among the four powers and association with the two Koreas are factors that can determine our future. But we are too engrossed in our domestic issues to pay any attention to improving relationships with these powers.

We must eye improving ties between China and Japan. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will be visiting Beijing ahead of the summit with South Korea, China and Japan in early May to discuss initiating talks on a tripartite free trade deal as well as the North Korean nuclear problem. Even though the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement remains a pending issue, we must not neglect to study the gains and drawbacks from a free trade framework among East Asian economies.

We must remember that there is a two-faced nature in relations between two superpowers. The U.S. and China can be both foes and allies depending on their needs. In his opening speech at Asia Society Hong Kong Center on Feb. 9, Tung Chee Hwa, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and former chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, emphasized the partnership with the U.S. Americans “are always a part of Asia, and part of the Asia-Pacific. Your presence is welcomed and you will continue to play a key role in our common future,” he said, underscoring the need for China and the U.S. to work together to tackle international challenges.

The next day, Tung Chee Hwa boarded a plane to accompany Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, tapped as China’s next leader, on his U.S. trip. The Hong Kong government offered the site to host the Hong Kong Center of the Asia Society that was first established by the Rockefellers in New York 56 years ago to strengthen ties with Americans and Asians. Hong Kong businessmen donated $50 million to build the center. Sino-Chinese ties contain complex and complicated underlying factors that can be misleading to the naked eye.

We must not only tend to our relationship with our ally the U.S. and strategic partner China, but also cement tripartite ties with China and Japan, and pay attention to Russia’s policy on Asia. To protect and buttress our interests despite our relative weaknesses among the regional powers, we must be equipped with clearly stated goals and meticulous strategies. We need to muster a broad public consensus and strong political leadership to be equipped. It is uncertain whether we can keep our eye on our priorities with our politics entirely gripped with elections.

Elections are a kind of battle and contest where players caught up in the intensity lose their capacity for dialogue, compromise and peace. But we will live on as one community even after the elections are over. Germany, which accomplished reunification before us, has weathered the historical tide and challenges through politics of compromise and coalition.

We hope politicians will keep the channel for communication and dialogue open even amid the intensity and fervor of elections. Some even want to believe the contentious ruling-opposition agreement to increase the legislative seat by one to 300 is a start to bipartisanship. Politicians must be aware that people to see politics of compromise and engagement more than anything.

*The author is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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