[ROSTRUM] New Vision is Needed in a New Century

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[ROSTRUM] New Vision is Needed in a New Century

Our Leaders Realize They Are Incapable of Tackling New Challenges
by Ha Young-Sun

The 21st century has begun. Instead of the new year beginning with great hope, 2001 has started with anxiety over the nation's economic difficulties, worries about the International Monetary Fund's second round of negotiations, the continuing uncertain relationship between North and South Korea, and the need to solidify diplomatic ties with the new U.S. administration.

Obviously President Kim Dae-jung's government in the last three years could be blamed for the nation's present problems. However, these challenges are rooted in the structural limitations that have faced South Korea in the past two centuries.

It is now necessary for the traditional Korean way of thinking to change drastically in order to face the new century because the president's reform policies are certain to encounter obstacles.

First, we need new leadership that will set Korea up as a model for the 21st century. We are facing the emergence of a new civilization in the midst of globalization and the information revolution. The major nations are actively recreating themselves to adapt to the new century's realities.

But South Korea is in a transitional period, still indebted to those who opposed the past authoritarianism in order to democratize the country. In a sense, this is a tragic period of our modern history. It is obvious that the president, in his quest to bring democracy to the country, has had no time to prepare for the 21st century.

The so-called "386 generation," born in the 1960s, who advocated democratic reform, are ill-equipped to face the new century. We also have a good number of self-professed "progressives" who view the 21st century with a 19th- or 20th-century outlook. This is what South Korea is today.

The leaders who brought on the nation's democratization realize that unfortunately they are incapable of tackling the new challenges; they will instead have to delegate the initiative to more progressive minds.

To ensure his place in history, President Kim has to act wisely during the two years that remain in his term in office.

Second, the issue of the nation's reunification should be an open one. The 21st century on this planet will be recorded in history as a century of complexity among individuals, local governments, states and regions.

Since the summit meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, the discourse about unification of the peninsula has not overcome the idea of the 19th century's "closed" unification.

After the visit to North Korea by President Kim in June and the scheduled visit of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il, if the reunification talks fail to result in peace and prosperity both for Koreans and for the rest of East Asia, then the gala summit diplomacy of the two leaders will not make a significant contribution toward building a unified model country of the 21st century.

"Open" unification in the new century must do away with unrealistic proposals for unification. In the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration, both Koreas agreed that they would tackle the issue of unification by exploring the similarities found in the South's view of "confederation" and Pyongyang's "loose form of federation."

However, success does not lie in the similarities of the proposed unification plans, but rather on the similarities of the ideologies and political systems to be unified.

Last, we must be prepared to face the century in step with other nations. Global politics in the next century requires not only a new balance of power, but also a "global governance" in which the spaces of the globe, region, nation, province, individual and even those of cyberspace are mobilized at once.

We are still mired in outdated theories of power struggles, liberalism and imperialism. Indeed, amateurs with 19th century attitudes are competing with 21st century professionals.

The writer is a professor of International Relations at Seoul National University.

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