Kim saw China’s potential

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Kim saw China’s potential

Whenever I visit China for business or leisure, I am reminded of Kim Young-sam’s comment, “We are in big trouble.” More than 10 years ago, a senior politician who was close to Kim Young-sam told me the story. In 1994, President Kim expressed lament after visiting the development site of Pudong in Shanghai. Later, I met other aides of the former president, such as former Blue House secretary Lee Won-jong, on the context of the remark and the background. But I failed to verify details as their memories have faded.

“Seeing is believing, and this time, I am deeply impressed by China’s development,” Kim said two days after the visit to the Pudong district as he spoke at Peking University (JoongAng Ilbo, March 29, 1994). “Deeply impressed by China’s development” is not Kim’s signature style of speech. If you translate this courteous remark in his own language, it would be, “We are in big trouble.”

Later, Kim wrote, “I visited the Pudong district, the site of Shanghai’s ambitious economic development, and witnessed the enormous potential of China in person. China is moving forward with grand dreams … Upon visiting the Pudong district, I felt desperate that Korea should look out toward the world as soon as possible. I had a realization that if we remain a big fish in a small pond, Korea will fall behind in the global competition” (Memoir of Kim Young-sam, Chosun Ilbo).

The five-day official visit was Kim’s first trip to China. The Pudong district was still in the early stages of development. The memoir describes the area as “vast land endlessly unfolding, with only partial development.” But Kim was a master of insight and saw the signs of China’s rise.

In November 1994, Kim declared “globalization” during a visit to Sydney. While some argue that his rash policies led to an economic crisis that resulted in the IMF bailout, internationalization and globalization are inevitable and undeniable worldwide trends for a country whose growth is based on exports, then and now.

The potential of China that Kim saw has already become a reality. The Korean politicians who are divided over history textbooks distinguish enemies from allies based on whether one considers May 16 a coup or a revolution, who are divided over whether they are pro-Park Geun-hye or not, or pro-Roh Moo-hyun or not, should visit Pudong. If they don’t feel what Kim Young-sam felt 21 years ago, they are not likely to be “sincere” politicians for the citizens.

The author is the deputy national editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 25, Page 31

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