Toward refined politicsSouth Korea is neighbors with North Korea, China, Russia and Japan. None of them are easy to deal with or friendly. Then there is the big brother across the Pacific, the United States. They feigned respect when our economy was growing in full force and politics was running normally. Now Korea has become a laughing stock of the world after being swept up in a scandal involving a mysterious woman who allegedly pulled strings behind President Park Geun-hye.
Pyongyang has gone as far as accusing Seoul of orchestrating the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, even as Malaysian police found the North responsible. Beijing has outright banned Chinese travel agencies from arranging and selling trips to South Korea, yet Seoul has done nothing. The Japanese government has been snubbing its South Korean counterparts for the past two months. How Seoul is treated today is preposterous even with its authority impaired by the impeachment of the president.
The main opposition Democratic Party, whose candidates lead in popular polls, have offered little relief. Its presidential candidates Moon Jae-in, Lee Jae-myung and Choi Sung have maintained naïve and unrealistic views on security. Lee’s stance on deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system was shockingly dangerous. He claimed Korea was being used in U.S. military’s strategy of reining in China through a tripartite alliance with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. He described South Korea as if it were a colonial army of the United States. He discredited the use of Thaad as deterrence and protection against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. He was more or less advocating for Beijing in a regional hegemonic fight with Washington.
Choi, who helped design President Kim Dae-jung’s signature Sunshine Policy of engagement with North Korea, maintained a naïvely romantic perspective. He proposed the DP and its chairwoman, Choo Mi-ae, offer to mediate between Washington and Beijing. He was ignorant of how an attempt at mediation and balanced diplomacy from a weak state can be crushingly sneered at by global powers.
Moon remained as unfathomable as ever. To solve the Thaad conundrum, he suggested the decision of deploying the missile defense battery be left to the next administration — utterly naïve given the North’s imminent threat and our relationship with America. He also claimed he had a diplomatic solution to solve the problem as president. Either he is too good or ignorant of the cruel and selfish nature of the international political playing field.
The three opposition candidates shared a kind of communalism as they nodded at one another in an approving manner. Their comments and views only raised questions about whether the party can be relied on to safeguard the nation.
An Hee-jung, another candidate who poses as an odd fish in the liberal party, had an individualistic but realistic view. “Our defense security is based on Korea-U.S. joint command and alliance,” he said. All the solutions should come from public consensus. That is why the candidate appeals to centrist and conservative voters, too.
During the 120-minute debate, Moon, Lee and Choi argued that the legacies of a dark past — the forces collaborating with the Japanese colonial government and military regimes — must be hunted down and dug out. They are members of the old liberal school, still loyal to their roots in the democracy movement. But An has freed himself from his student activist days of the 1980s to focus on pending and future problems and seek practical solutions. He is a pupil of new liberals.
Still, the party debate was a fresh experiment. Their way of freely expressing and discussing various themes stood out, particularly at a time of political unrest and uncertainty. It gave the audience an opportunity to better understand the views of the presidential aspirants. Voters who distrust the DP for its laid-back security views can help sway the mainstream party view in a more realistic direction.
Every election has felt like a war to us. Politics must be done in a different way. Public engagement as manifested in the massive street protests should move to the legitimate forum of political parties. To simply be for or against a certain issue cannot advance the country.
The future must not be defined by the number of people on the streets. We must choose our leader after heated debates and cool judgment. All the people must concentrate their energy to restore politics. If not, we will continue to be looked down upon and kicked around by other states.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, Page 30
*The author is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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