Time to reinvent Korea
We witnessed clear evidence of corruption in the lead-up to the Constitutional Court’s deliberations on President Park and her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil. While watching Choi’s daughter’s illegal admission to college and shady deals between power and conglomerates, a public thirst for a fair society grew deeper than ever. The zeitgeist calls for addressing the deepening polarization of wealth and ending the deep-rooted cronyism and factionalism led by our elites. Year 2017 should be the beginning of the revitalization of our country, on par with the Meiji Restoration in Japan.
The first challenge is the next presidential election, to be held within 60 days after the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the presidential impeachment. As a new leader is sworn in as president even without a transitional period in case the court rules in favor of the impeachment, presidential hopefuls must present a clear vision and road map to reform the government.
That calls for mature leadership that can fully reflect the public call for justice and fairness, as exposed in the massive rallies in Gwanghwamun and Seoul plaza. A new president must not repeat the divisive and confrontational style of politics and instead run the country based on close communication with aides and citizens after ending the imperialistic presidency of the past.
The responsibility must be borne by our politicians and leaders. They must have the determination to depart with their ideological past and embrace others. If politicians under the new four-party system seek to regroup themselves for their election victory, that will only backfire as will their populist campaign promises.
Three decades after the introduction of our five-year, single-term presidency, a call for constitutional revision is gaining momentum. Our constitutional amendment must aim for a government that effectively communicates with the opposition and the public to meet the call of the times — instead of seeking shortsighted advantages in the election.
A bigger challenge comes from our economic front. With the U.S. Federal Reserve expected to raise its benchmark rate up to 4 percent in two years, our economy will likely register a growth rate lower than 3 percent for three consecutive years. That bodes ill for our struggling economy, as the time bomb of 1,300 trillion won ($1.08 trillion) in household debt may explode at any time. That will first wreak havoc on our working class. The government and politicians must take care of the soaring household debt and a potential real estate bubble.
The government must restructure our economy in a fundamental way because we cannot rest on large company-based exports any longer. In the middle of a fourth industrial revolution, we must develop a new software- and fusion-based industry after scrapping all types of regulations that stifled our entrepreneurship.
We face a serious external challenge from U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump’s America First policy, not to the mention huge repercussions in international relations around the globe. Trump’s foreign policy can shake our decades-old alliance, starting with a demand for a cancellation of the Korea-U.S. free trade deal and a pullout of U.S. forces. If he continues to put economic pressure on China, it can deal a fatal blow to our economy. The government must find a way to consolidate our alliance with America while maintaining amicable relations with China.
A peaceful coexistence with North Korea is needed. As Kim Jong-un is likely to declare his country a nuclear power after accelerating nuclear development this year through its sixth and seventh nuclear tests, we must avert a crisis in which the issue gets out of control.
A new president must reinforce our command to consistently cope with inter-Korean and diplomatic issues by appointing strategist-type minsters of unification and foreign policy. The government needs to continue civilian projects with the North because the North’s higher reliance on the South offers us a stronger leverage on inter-Korean relations.
Given our alarmingly low birthrate, the government must come up with policies to raise it through subsidies and other kinds of benefits. Presidential candidates also must present commitments to overcome our overly low birthrate.
The bird flu is still sweeping our poultry farms. No one knows what kind of a disaster will hit the nation down the road. We can build a better nation if we can turn passion into energy.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 34