Harmony and pragmatism
Evidence suggesting Korea is failing in the multidimensional crisis of convergence and is following the course of Japan’s prolonged recession is growing. At this point, we need to part with the past to open a new era. The biggest obstacles to the reversal are weak political leadership and backward politics.
In the past three decades, Korea failed to manage two very important transitional moments. The first transition was the period from the mid-1980s to the foreign currency crisis in 1997, as the Korean economy got out of the Park Chung Hee-style development economy to marketization and an open economy.
The second transitional period was the last decade, from the beginning of the 21st century through the global crisis to today. In this period, our core manufacturing sector of heavy and chemical industries, IT and parts and material industries faced limits and presented challenges to overcome. Here, we had to pursue and implement a drastic transformation in the technology ecosystem with a breakthrough in industrial structure with innovation and technological advancement.
However, Korea failed to manage the second transitional period once again and could not maintain the hard-earned momentum. And the Korean economy entered a slump. In this period, Korean politics became driven by ideology, and political leadership was lost in factional politics.
President Roh Moo-hyun focused on making the world a fairer place, and Lee Myung-bak bet everything on the four-rivers restoration project. Political leadership of the five-year single-term presidents weakened extremely, and they had to maintain their power not with the approval of the people but with the support of their factions. In the end, politics got entangled in factional discord and entered an identity crisis. In this chaos, politicians failed to realize that the second transitional period had come and the economy was entering a slump.
In the slump, socioeconomic psychology became depressed, and citizens were driven by a selfish survival instinct and struggled not to be isolated in the vast structure of collusion rather than challenging for a better future. Young Koreans are better educated and funded, but entry into society became more difficult. The young people are losing confidence in frustration and fury.
As the global economy is strapped in a quagmire and major countries like China are in a structural economic slowdown, Korea needs a very different prescription and vaccine. However, the Park Geun-hye administration responded with the creative economy without making fundamental prescriptions like industrial restructuring or restoration of the economic ecosystem.
Meanwhile, the Korean economy entered stagnation. Productivity of the political policy process plummeted, and confidence in state authority was lost.
As a result of the re-emergence and expansionism of China, Korea is in a diplomatic dilemma between the United States and China. Lately, the interests of the United States and China over Korean Peninsula affairs are clashing, and the two powers have different perspectives. The gap between their North Korea policies is growing. The friction only made North Korean leader Kim Jong-un more daring. The recent missile and nuclear tests only escalate tension on the peninsula.
Critical factures such as politics, economy, security, social trust and leadership are growing, and their combined effects are amplifying. Here, we need to part with the past and seek a new beginning by drawing a bigger picture in a longer breath, transform the ecosystem, bring together our best experts and control the crisis.
Does Korea have the determination and drive to get out of the past and move to the future? The test will be the 20th National Assembly election. We need to accomplish a drastic transition. We must reconsider the descendants of the democratization-era politicians who have become overly ideology-driven, and the failed descendants of the industrialization-oriented generation who protect the massive collusion system and their own interests. Both groups must be ousted to break away from ideology and transfer power to the pragmatic and logical digital generation.
Many Koreans are already disappointed even before the election. They deplore the chaotic nomination process and preparation. I wonder if the clock has been turned back centuries. Now, Koreans need to part with the dark generation. We need to show the power of voters and continue to check on politicians to create a productive political system.
The best virtues of the 20th National Assembly should be harmony and pragmatism. The lawmakers should recover the lost trust in state authority and get out of the identity crisis. President Park should be at the center of the harmony and display leadership for a new beginning. Severance and a new beginning are the only way to bring the economy back on track, give hope to young people and open a brighter future.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, March 16, Page 28
*The author, a former minister of commerce, industry and energy, is chairman of the North East Asian Research Foundation.