A path President Lee should not follow

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A path President Lee should not follow


In many ways, the performance of the four-rivers restoration project will become an important measure of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Personally, I think it would have been better if the projects were implemented gradually over time instead targeting all four rivers at once. However, decisions have already been made, and we can only hope that the tremendous investment from taxpayers will pay off.

On this project and other issues, President Lee has been frequently compared to former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka since his election. Tanaka served as prime minister from 1972 to 1974. Just like President Lee, Tanaka was from a humble background and worked his way up to become a politician. His close ally Susumu Nikaido gave him the nickname “computerized bulldozer.” President Lee used to say that he, too, was a computerized bulldozer.

When Japan was defeated in World War II in August 1945, Tanaka was staying at an inn near Daejeon Station, as his company, Tanaka Civil Engineering and Construction Industries, had a branch there. Upon learning about Japan’s fate, he called his Korean employees and declared that he would donate his fortune to the newly liberated peninsula and safely returned to Japan.

Lee Myung-bak, who was born in Osaka, Japan, returned to Korea around that time. The two are especially alike as they rose to prominence from careers in civil engineering and construction before turning to politics. Once they reached positions of power, they pursued their areas of expertise. Tanaka advocated the Japanese archipelago-remodeling plan and carried out civil engineering and construction projects all around the country. Similarly, President Lee started the controversial four-rivers restoration project.

Another point of similarity is that both leaders were faced with economic crises while in office. When Japan was hit by the 1973 oil crisis, Tanaka appointed political rival Takeo Fukuda as minister of finance. And as we all know very well, Lee Myung-bak was in office for the start of the most recent global financial crisis that shook the world economy to its core.

But hopefully President Lee does not follow Tanaka’s path in at least one aspect. Before Tanaka passed away in 1993, he was indicted for his involvement in the Lockheed bribery scandals. He was found guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 500 million yen ($6.25 million).

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

by Noh Jae-hyun
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