A backward step

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A backward step

Chinese President Xi Jinping should have invited former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a special guest to the Victory Day military parade. The pioneer of U.S.-China ties in the 1970s was Kissinger. If the 92-year-old diplomatic veteran and living witness of China’s modern history had stood at Tiananmen Gate, the friendship between China and the United States would have been highlighted, and the absence of President Obama wouldn’t have been so obvious.

Knowing China better than anyone, Kissinger was once skeptical of China’s modernization prospects. In July 1985, Kissinger visited Korea and met with Chung Ju-yung, Hyundai founder and chairman of the Korea Federation of Industries at the time. Kissinger argued that if China maintained the Communist system and switched to a market economy, the mind-set and customs of the Communist system and discord among classes from an increasing income gap would lead to social unrest. He was quite skeptical of China’s future.

Chung’s view was different. Living in the Communist system for a mere half century wouldn’t change the business mind-set of the Chinese people, he argued, and despite a certain amount of chaos and challenges, China would grow to become the largest economy in the world on par with the United States. China became one of the G-2 nations and Chung’s Hyundai-Kia Motors made 29 trillion won ($24.3 billion) last year from selling cars in China. Chung was more insightful than Kissinger.

While Chung didn’t go beyond elementary school, he surprised the world with a liberal imagination and outstanding insight. He likes to call himself “not a tycoon but a worker who succeeded.” He refused to be defined by others and denounced the stereotype of a privileged tycoon. He came up with the idea of herding 1,001 cows through Panmunjom into North Korea. His cattle run was a refreshing, fun way of jeering at Korea’s division. At the same time, it was a grand advertisement for both Mount Kumgang tourism and the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North. With 1001 cows, he pushed the truce line northward without firing a single shot.

President Park Geun-hye’s attendance at the Victory Day celebration in China is the beginning of a multidimensional foreign policy, expanding Korea’s diplomacy beyond American influence to a broader spectrum. In its complex international interests, Korea can maximize its gains with an optimal portfolio. However, an incident that goes against the trend has happened. The government and the ruling party want a government-designated textbook for Korean history. It is universal common sense in a civilized world to have different interpretations and discussions of historical facts. Only then, can we support multidimensional values, creativity and imagination. State domination of the right to interpret history would make us forfeit all of these. Naturally, Seoul National University professors, middle and high school teachers and education superintendents are opposing the idea.

The most notable countries with state-designated textbooks are North Korea, Bangladesh and some Islamic countries. China and Russia abolished them, and Vietnam is trying to go from state designation to state approval. Why should Korea go against such a liberal trend when we have become one of the top 10 economies in the world with democratic diversity and openness?

President Park Geun-hye values cultural prosperity and created 17 Creative Economy and Innovation Centers around the country. Creativity and imagination blossom when you can view things from different angles. When you force children to memorize correct answers, society becomes fixed and stalled. The Netherlands had been occupied by Spain, but it became a naval power in the 17th century as it allowed freedom of religion and philosophy. Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, and empiricist John Locke fled France and England to the Netherlands. The founding fathers of the United States benchmarked the Netherlands. Diversity and tolerance can change the fate of a nation.

The problem is Korea’s division. With the enemy in front, we are obsessed with the idea of sticking together and oppress diversity. Of course, we need to be united when it comes to national security. But for other things, it is not necessary. Being different may make you feel insecure, but we need to let diversity flower. Only then, Korea can become a country attracting talents and capital from around the world just like the Netherlands.

The government seems to be displeased that no school selected the Gyeohaksa version compiled by the biased, New Right scholars among the current verified and approved textbooks. Some argue that the approved textbooks are overly progressive. However, the problem should be addressed differently. Retracting the right to interpret history is an extreme measure. Chung Ju-yung made Hyundai a leading company and set a milestone in inter-Korean reconciliation by looking at things from different angles. Acting like North Korea out of fury would only suppress the creativity of a future Chung Ju-yung.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 35

*The author is a chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-kyung

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