Striking the right chord

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Striking the right chord

It’s a pity that the latest president failed to avoid the late-term witch hunt and prosecutorial investigation so typical in Korea. If it is any consolation, or at least a distraction, President Lee Myung-bak scored pretty well on foreign affairs during his term, which is a crucial realm for the presidency.

Apart from North Korea, he fared well on the foreign front by employing his signature individual style. His rich experience in entrepreneurship and his engaging character had appeal on the global stage. He impressed U.S. President Barack Obama and played host to several major conferences.

He frequented international conferences and banquets with self-confidence and his self-taught English. He made his name as one of the most lively and active leaders around the globe. He sold the world on his confidence, helping to raise the international status of Korea. He should be credited for this very unexpected accomplishment.

Experience is not bought overnight. The veteran singers who get up on the Sunday night song match “I Am a Singer” have been in the music industry for over a decade. And yet every one of them takes a deep breath and sweats it out as they await their turn on the stage, and some even forget their lyrics or make another error while performing. Their singing skills are impeccable, but just a few of them draw rapturous applause and standing ovations.

They’re the ones who know how to touch the hearts of the audience. According to a tip by veteran singer Cho Yong-pil, you have to hit the right chord at the right time. Such ability comes from rich experience on stage and in life. The experiences contribute to the artist’s philosophy of performance. This year’s presidential election campaign has had trouble drawing much of an audience because the performers lack appeal. But we are forced to select one of them nonetheless, whether we like it or not.

Moon Jae-in, candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party, excels in hitting sour notes. The public is often bewildered by the extreme, coarse rhetoric coming from such a genteel figure. He can hardly sell one of his solo performances to an audience that knows he prefers doing duets with independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo.

Ahn, so far, has proven even more of a disappointment. His opening number lacked any kind of magic or inspiration. Instead of singing in his own voice, he gave the microphone to the audience to sing on his behalf. It’s a wonder that the audience is still singing along. Maybe they are just sick and tired of the same old performers on the political stage and are happy enough with a fresh face.

The most experienced of the three, Park Geun-hye, has the makings of a moving performance. But she has failed to find the right tune to blend the wealth of her personal history and political experience with a sincere heart. The result has been a monotonous and unsympathetic performance.

The worst act from all three is on the theme of diplomacy. The president’s primary roles are in the economy, social unity and foreign affairs. Diplomacy is one third of the portfolio and it is crucial in the case of Korea.

When the country was elected a member of the United Nations Security Council last month, none of the candidates issued a statement. We heard nothing from any campaign when the UN-sponsored Green Climate Fund announced it will put its headquarters in Korea, which the media expects to generate economic benefits of 380 billion won ($348 million). None paid any attention or associated the news with a vision for the future. They were clueless.

Our ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, worked tirelessly to win the votes to get the Green Climate Fund to make its home here. He said it was not easy to secure space for Korea to function as a bridge between developing and advanced countries. Establishing and enhancing this role should be Korea’s direction on the foreign front.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently delivered a touching address in the Korean legislature titled “The United Nations and Korea: Together, Building the Future We Want.”

The title itself is inspirational. He shared the joy and pride of finding Korea’s impact around the globe from first-hand experience with people from all corners of the world.

We may take them for granted, but our achievements in the economy, education, human rights and environment are envied by many countries. Ban, as the first Korean UN chief, wants to share Korea’s story with the world.

What about the next president? The candidates should speak up about how they will polish the country’s image and build a bridge between advanced and developing nations.

But sadly, none of the candidates is capable of forming such a grand picture. Park was first among the three to announce a foreign policy. But it was all boiler plate language and sentiments like “trust” and “balance” without any kind of real vision.

There is not much we can say about China in the future. But in Japan, we can see the shriveling of a country’s high profile under a diplomatically inexperienced left-wing leader. All the prime ministers under the current party have been disasters. They were not groomed to think about Japan’s role in the world. Therefore, as a consequence, they simply don’t.

Do any of our candidates have knowledge of the world, especially the conflict zones of the Middle East or North Korea? We sincerely hope we will get far better performance from the candidates in the future.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is a sociology professor of Seoul National University.

by Song Ho-keun
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