Preparation, not procrastination
Art historian Giorgio Vasari first used the term “rinascita,” which is Italian for rebirth, in his book “The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects” in the 16th century, as he brought back arts that had declined since ancient times. The word “renaissance” means rebirth in French and was first used in an 18th-century encyclopedia to explain the age of arts and culture. The French term
came to be used worldwide to refer to the cultural movement.
Italians may feel this is unfair. All the things the country did for this period, and France got to name it. However, it was inevitable as France was the center of arts and culture in the 18th century. Power is the law and money is morality in the international order.
Korea is in no position to feel pity about Italy. The body of water we call the East Sea could possibly be called the “Sea of Japan.” Absurdly enough, a textbook published in Korea contained the Japanese label after carelessly copying a map created in another country. The incident illustrates changing international perceptions. It is pathetic that Koreans get furious over the labeling without thinking about a more fundamental truth in the international community: “Might is right.”
The Korean perspective on Japan after the U.S. visit by the Japanese prime minister is not much different. We lament how the United States and Japan are getting closer as Korea becomes increasingly isolated. We censure Korea’s diplomacy and demand that the government should do better. However, no one can pinpoint how the government should respond. Neither diplomatic authorities nor those criticizing foreign policy have any solution.
The United States wants Japan to play a reinforced military role in East Asia. Japan’s interests coincide with America’s need to cut military expenses. It also overlaps with the ultimate purpose of checking on China. In this geopolitical circumstance, a reinforced alliance between the United States and Japan and Japan’s military augmentation is inevitable, and has already become a constant. How could
Korea stop it? If we want to prevent Japan’s militarization, Korea has to take on the cost and burden of replacing defense cooperation between the United States and Japan. Is it possible? Is it necessary?
It may be, but it will take more than diplomacy. We need power — not military strength but financial capacity. Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan has said in private, “If the Korean economy grew by 5 percent for 10 years straight, I would have no other wish.” This means having
the kind of economic capacity that is on a par with Japan. Last year, Korea’s percapita GDP was $28,739. Five percent growth for 10 consecutive years would make it more than $46,000. It would take only six years to surpass Japan’s per-capita GDP of $37,540, as Japan’s growth rate is close to zero.
Economic power is not just about percapita GDP, and it is too naïve to think a higher per-capita GDP means the surpassing of Japan. However, it would be the minimum requirement to keep Japan from being so reckless. If Korea’s percapita GDP becomes greater than that of Japan, we would no longer have to beg for apologies or worry about isolation. As our economic capacity grows, Korea’s diplomatic capability will expand as well.
Of course, it is a dream. This year’s growth will be more like 3 percent. But it is not necessarily an impossible goal if the reforms under discussion are attained. We have already experienced that dreams come true in 2002. The Huainanzi tells us what we need to do now. “It is better to return home and weave a net than stand by water and admire the fish.”
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY Lee Hoon-beom