Korea’s surprising advantage

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Korea’s surprising advantage

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Here’s a pop quiz. In what area is Korea ahead of the United States? 1. Internet 2. Automobile 3. Film 4. Politics.

While many would choose No. 1 - the Internet - it is an easy trap. Korea may boast of its Internet speed and penetration rate but, overall, the United States is the pioneer of the Internet and has an overwhelming volume of Internet data.

Those who chose automobile or film are likely quite proud of their nation. However, blind patriotism can blur judgments. While American carmakers are losing popularity and many Korean movies attract 10 million viewers, Korea is not on par with the United States in either industry in terms of market size or technological level.

That leaves us with No. 4. Korean politics is derided as backward, so how can it be any better than American politics, the home of democracy? Nonetheless, I am not joking.

Let’s look at two examples. Both Korea and the United States tried the political experiment of electing a minority member as leader. In 2008, an African-American became president of the United States for the first time. Six years earlier, Koreans elected a human rights lawyer who was a technical high school graduate. Some may think the two are not comparable; however, the reaction by vested interests when Roh Moo-hyun was elected was similar to what the United States is going through today.

Korea was the first to have a female president. While Hillary Clinton is a promising candidate for 2016, it is still early. The experience of electing a woman as president is valuable, especially as diversity is such a great tool for closing the gap between classes, ideologies, regions and generations.

If Korean politics is ahead of American politics, it is not thanks to the politicians. In fact, Korean voters have grown so savvy because of the shortcomings of their politicians. We have been deceived sometimes, but we constantly move forward, even if by making right or left turns.

Politicians have focused on soothing the stomachache and thus failed to treat the real illness. They do not understand that votes are only the most basic method of solving problems. Elections can verify the will of the majority but cannot change the actions of the minority. That failure has led to great social discord among members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

If we have advanced politics, it is about time we set an example by displaying the power to listen to the voices of the minority. To me, they say, “What we want is not just liberty but happiness.” We want more than getting out of poverty and ending authoritarianism. As Voltaire said, a real leader is the one who follows.

*The author is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By LEE HOON-BEOM

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