A balanced ship can go farther
The author is the chairman of the North East Asia Research Foundation and a former minister of commerce, industry and energy.
The Yoon Suk-yeol presidency of five years has started. How he steers the nation will be closely watched. The first part of the “Yongbieocheonga” — the Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven — prays for a national foundation as deep as tree roots and springs. We hope that Yoon’s new government can maintain balance on the perilous sea.
Balance will be key for the Yoon Suk-yeol presidency against tumultuous waves and a hard climate of typhoons and heavy fog. The bridge of the South Korean ship has tilted right and left depending on which ideological front the captain came from. The ship swayed between the two extreme poles according to the change of the captain, causing a sinking and dizzying feeling for passengers onboard.
President Yoon now stands before the wheel. The ship will once again shake if it changes direction dramatically to the right.
The climate does not seem friendly towards Yoon in his maiden voyage. His past two months as president-elect felt little like a honeymoon period celebrating the victory and launch of a new government. There is no sense of excitement and hopefulness among the passengers as they head onto another ride for five years. The legislature under the supermajority of the Democratic Party (DP) will be certain to make the sailing bumpy for the new government.
The fundamental challenge the ship faces on the domestic front is the sea split into two. Despite little differences on their platforms, rivalling political groups have been clinging to their ideological roots, denying the whole with small differences and continuing with destruction without any creativity to build on the past. Politics of extremities have resurfaced to augment collective interests.
The survival contest between rivalling ideological fronts has extended the tragic streak for retiring presidents. The division of the people sharp enough to deny the opposing front created a bisected society under President Moon Jae-in. The divisive survival method is surely a recipe for a national doom.
The country has weakened from the protracted discord. Korean politics hit a new low, and the economy is now facing another crisis. People have high hopes that Yoon as a political rookie could rebuild politics. They aspire for a leader who can finally be neutral and represent the entire nation, not just one particular ideological front.
As president, Yoon must watch himself to keep to the middle and focus his eyes on the people. If he tilts to outright right, he will repeat the poor history of Korean presidency. Yoon must enhance both the market economy and social security, and find ways to balance the alliance with the U.S. and cooperation with China and conflicts between the creative minority and the non-creative majority.
Yoon will govern the country for nearly two years without a major political event after the June 1 local elections. He must address the causes of regressive politics and the dual structure of the Korean society.
In the Korean edition of his book “Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind,” historian and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari wrote that various common dilemmas of mankind have been concentrated the most in South Korea. As South Korea has achieved a compressed — and super-fast — modernization and advances on politics of extremities, the country has fallen deep into the multilayered slump of “Korean issues.” Since politics has long chosen to neglect the fissures, it has come to slow down the nation’s progress and economy. As the galloping economy has failed to engage the broader population, many feel left out and behind.
As the Korean mentality has failed to keep up with the rapid economic advances, the economic achievements have not led to the happiness of the broader population. South Korea has set new records in low birth rates, an aging pace, the population cliff, murders, abortion, suicide and orphan exports. The fixture of a dual structure and the absence of balance have been the cause of the disasters. The uncreative majority has fallen prey to extreme politics. The politics of extremities feed on social and economic stratification.
What role has Yoon in the history? His challenging and urgent mission is to unite the country by becoming a balancer. He must find grounds for cooperation by easing the deep-rooted bisection in the society. He must set the foundation to address the dual structure of the society. It is the only way to end the tragic political tradition and resolve the structural problems for a successful transition into a better future. If he achieves the mission, he could set a new milestone for Korean politics and history.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.