Restoring state leadership
With the end of the year approaching, I look back on 2015. The world has been intimidated and become lethargic. With problems and incidents accumulating, leaders remain passive, and the world has lost trust.
In the 21st century, the United States and other leading nations had to prioritize their own survival and lost their leadership in global issues, and the underdeveloped and emerging nations that had relied on them became shaken. Exploiting the absence of trust, the Islamic State and other groups trying to destroy the existing order have expanded, resulting in catastrophes such as the terror attacks in Paris.
The year 2015 in Korea is coming to an end amid extreme lethargy. This year, Koreans have painfully acknowledged their limits in despair. Citizens lamented the chaotic aftermath of the Sewol ferry incident and Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak more than the tragic events themselves. As society becomes overly obsessed with ideologies and politics, problem-solving capacity has drastically lowered, and citizens’ expectations of leaders and their leadership have plummeted, plunging the country into a crisis of trust.
Korea’s ecosystem has become desolate as new hope is not born and the political zombies that should be extinct survive. The young generation is frustrated to enter the high walls set by the outdated society of collusion, and there is little hope that the next generation will be better off than the present generation. The absence of national leadership to overcome these obstacles makes citizens hopeless and powerless.
The presidents who serve a single five-year term have failed to show the open leadership of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who composed his cabinet with the best and most capable figures of the time, including his political enemies. They failed to realize historic achievements as they avoided the Great Stone Faces and preferred the well-polished pebbles. Politicians have been reduced to an interest group instead of bringing the nation together. The backwardness of the so-called National Assembly Advancement Act turned political negotiations into collusion for interests, and policy making has become a high-cost, low-productivity process.
Grass-roots democracy has gone sour, and good-minded novice politicians easily become tempted to pursue immediate interests. The democratization fighters’ descendants, who are satirized as “our twisted heroes,” clash with descendants of the industrialists who are engrossed in safeguarding their interests. We have witnessed the gang fight through the year. In addition, many public and semi-public figures have abandoned the values and justifications they had originally pursued and become focused on survival and protecting self-interests.
Until the 1980s and 1990s, citizens trusted government officials. People felt assured to see the offices in the Gwacheon Government Complex with lights on until late at night. Many officials confronted politicians and even military authorities, and they liked to say they would die in battle honorably. But the bureaucrats today self-deprecatingly say they are on exile in Sejong City, unable to overcome the excessive politicization. They continue to make invisible errors as they only do what they are ordered to do by the administration that changes every five years, and the citizens’ agony grows deeper.
Meanwhile, the citizens have been passionately cheering for Korean companies as the leading players of the Korean economy despite criticisms. However, uncertainty for the third-generation family management is growing. People say that wealth does not last three generations and are reminded of the third generation in the Godfather film series. People miss the risk-taking behavior, sacrifice, creativity and patriotism of the first-generation founders and are reluctant to give the same trust to third- and fourth-generation managers. Moreover, people grow even more helpless as the heirs and heiresses obsess over duty-free shopping rights rather than daring for new challenges.
Helplessness is the quiet outcry that can only be heard by those willing to hear. How can Koreans get out of the quiet outcry? Has Korea’s national capacity become saturated?
The answer is clearly before us. The basic framework of the state administration should be changed, and national leadership needs to be restored. Most of all, the political policy process, including the National Assembly, should be reformed, the public sector revamped and the extensive food chain of collusion restructured.
Our country is not hopeless. If you go around the world, Korea is one of the few remaining countries worth living in. Koreans need to shake off the negative psychology, overcome excessive fear and renew their mindset and resolution. The year 2016 and 2017 are politically crucial times, and Koreans need to keep in mind that our historic calling is to restore state leadership by working together to weed out the pebbles and support the Great Stone Faces.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 9, Page 32
The author, a former minister of commerce, industry and energy, is the chairman of the North East Asian Research Foundation.
by Chung Duck-koo