Regaining common senseThe year of the Blue Horse has dawned. But the shadow of another Blue Horse year 120 years ago still darkens. The year 1894 began with the Donghak Peasant Revolution and ended with the Sino-Japanese War. As the entire nation was sharply divided into reformist or conservative groups, and pro-Chinese or pro-independence factions, the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) became easy prey to imperialist Western powers. Sixty years later in 1954 - the next year of the Blue Horse - Koreans began rebuilding from the devastating ruin of the 1950-53 Korean War to achieve its unprecedented economic success. The following 60 years witnessed the industrialization of Korea followed by democratization.
For the new Blue Horse year, Korea is again at a crossroads. In the face of rising uncertainty from abroad, domestic communication and cohesion have vanished. The era of high-speed economic growth ended long ago, and now we must confront the reality of low growth. While some people groan with pain over the quick aging of our society, others - particularly those in their 20s - sarcastically ask, “Are you okay?” - purely out of frustration and discontent. Fortunately, though, the Korean people are blessed with remarkably resilient DNA that has enabled them to rise like a phoenix, as they proved six and 12 decades ago.
For the past year, the beauty of politics has disappeared. The opposition Democratic Party was reluctant to accept the outcome of the presidential election, still stuck in the outdated cage of the democracy movement days. President Park Geun-hye may have kept her promise of “law and principle,” but at the expense of the politics of communication and cohesion she promised during the campaign. The ruling Saenuri Party also has turned into a shabby political group, with its eyes always on what the president thinks - even though it possesses a majority of seats in the National Assembly - wearing out citizens with its politics.
Tough challenges await in 2014. As the Sino-U.S. and Sino-Japanese conflicts are consolidated, Northeast Asian security is shaking. As seen in the brutal purge of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, the future of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un regime is still opaque. After declaring a new air defense identification zone, China swiftly changed the rhetoric of its earlier “peaceful rise.” Under the banner of the oxymoronic catchphrase “assertive pacifism,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trudges toward greater militarism. President Park’s diplomatic leverage has shrunk in contrast with her diplomatic achievements in her first year in office. It’s not easy for the government to walk a tightrope between its ally America and its strategic partner China.
The biggest problem of the Korean economy is low growth. If the government cannot put growth back on track, it cannot create quality jobs or secure the massive funds needed for social welfare. Domestically, the economy is mired in the double trap of a depressed local market and rapidly aging population, and internationally, it is exposed to the global recession and Abenomics. If we make a mistake here, another leap forward will be impossible.
The solution must first come from the political circle. The president and lawmakers have let the ship Korea drift along while clinging to their old habits, leading nowhere. The litmus test will come next June when local elections are held, as the elections will likely be transformed into a midterm assessment on the government.
Korea faces tough diplomacy and security challenges as well. The government must first find a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations. Only then can the foundation be prepared for America and China to actively engage in solving North Korea’s nuclear conundrum. That’s why the government must activate the Korean Peninsula Trust Process, despite the Kim regime’s tyrannical rule there. However, foreign policies based on wishful thinking cannot deal with the challenges in Northeast Asia. An out-of-the-box approach is desperately needed.
The government must redraw the economic blueprint for our prosperity. If it adheres to the goal of a 70 percent employment rate, it can hardly expect the economy to improve. The U.S. and Europe’s quantitative easing and Japan’s Abenomics are aimed at recovering economic growth. The government’s “creative economy” should be redirected toward a new growth paradigm based on protecting entrepreneurs’ “animal spirit” and “creative destruction.”
Our society is undergoing a rapid transition to an amazing mobile world. But actors in the new stream seem to lack respect for others, which provides a fertile ground for wild rumors and populism. If extreme voices dominate our society, it will lead to a crisis. Common sense based on clear communication with opponents must be the driving force of our society. That is also an important way to avert the colossal division of our society.