The pain of globalization
It has been a gloomy end to the year. The aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster has failed to subside. And as companies and the public face a difficult economic slowdown, there’s no way for society to feel uplifted. Korean have appeared to have given up a long time ago on their expectations for our politicians.
Across the board, there’s no good news: this year was truly a difficult one for all of us. From a global perspective, no country appeared to enjoy peace. It’s not to comfort ourselves to say that we are not the only ones experiencing misfortune or difficulty. Rather, it’s so we can confront the reality that everyone in this world - in industrialized nations or emerging economies - is passing a crucial moment in a difficult history.
There were big hopes for the new international order that was launched under the banner of the United Nations as we were freed from the hardship of World War II and the era of imperialism. After the Cold War ended and democracy spread in 1990, German reunification appeared to symbolize the possibility of the settlement of a new order.
A quarter century has passed, though, and yet again the world is drifting into absolute chaos due to tensions among its superpowers and geopolitical clashes. Globalization is facing a serious ordeal.
Largely owed to the determination of Deng Xiaoping, market globalization has brought about an irreversible progress over the past generation.
However, globalization, which provided the driving force for the development of the world economy, is now struggling between two barriers - recession and the wealth gap. Democratization, social development and the peaceful establishment of international relations, which progressed based on the globalization of information and culture, are also facing difficulties.
The most worrisome of all the chaos in our world today is the crises the superpowers have faced and their limited abilities and desire to counter them. If the superpowers fail to control their nostalgia toward imperialism, the world will have to endure yet another collision among them and the outcome we have struggled to win through globalization will face catastrophe.
With its victory in the Cold War, the United States enjoyed its status as a single superpower, but its position is now shaken, and that is actually an obvious outcome. Yet, the successes and failures of the American experiment, which promoted a liberal, open society as a country of multi-ethnic immigrants on the American continent, will have a large impact on the future of globalization.
The U.S. economy alone is showing signs of recovery amid the global recession and there is no alternative candidate to replace it as the leader in international politics. This reality helps reinforce the prestigious position of the United States.
The case of Russia, which rivaled the United States during the Cold War, clearly shows how difficult it is to dismantle an empire and how serious the aftermath is. Russian President Vladimir Putin is making desperate hard-line moves to meet the expectations of the Russian people, who are nostalgic about the Russian empire.
The concerns of the 25 million Russian people who were incorporated into the countries that are in the buffer zone with Western Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union are also understandable.
But as history demonstrates, we cannot rewind time back to the era of imperialism.
China’s dream is not to return to an empire but to redefine its original standing of being firmly in the center. It already accepted the globalization of the market and grew to become the world’s second-largest economy, but it is unlikely to start a competition with the United States over authority.
It’s closely watching India and Indonesia, which seek participatory democracy and rapid economic growth simultaneously. Won’t it try to become an ultra-superpower that can fit the next level of globalization?
Germany, which refrained from becoming a leader in Europe and has been careful in its moves, and Japan, an economic superpower that failed to settle its military past, can also contribute a lot to reigniting globalization, rather than having a lingering affection toward the imperialistic era.
Today’s world is facing the New Year with a sense of crisis. In this rough international situation, Korea needs to move forward to develop our security, economy, society and unification, and to this end, we need to have self-confidence and a dream for the future. In other words, we need to have a vision.
In the early 20th century, we fought against imperialism. Later in the century, we promoted democratization. These are the powers of our society.
The era of dominance by superpowers is drawing to an end. We need to embrace both idealism, through which the international community should work together for their future, and realism, which was strengthened through our history of hardships, and await the New Year.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 15, Page 35
*The author is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo and a former prime minister.
by Lee Hong-koo