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[Editorial] The Road Ahead for Korea

Posted August. 15, 2008 07:55,   


On the 63rd anniversary of Liberation Day and the 60th birthday of the Republic of Korea, nobody can blame us for taking pride in our nation. No country has made such huge progress as Korea has over the past six decades. A newly independent country whose people were so impoverished that three meals a day was considered a daunting task has become the world’s 13th-largest economy, emerging from the ashes of war and national division. The development we’ve made isn’t limited to economy. We have also opened an era of democracy and information. Of some 110 nations that secured independence after World War II, only Israel and Taiwan match Korea in progress. Given the two nations had a head start over us with more favorable conditions, it’s no exaggeration to say Korea boasts miraculous achievements not seen in another country.

In our modern history, liberation and national foundation have the same significance. Though we were liberated from Japanese colonial rule with the help of other countries, we couldn’t have achieved complete independence without our patriotic ancestors’ tenacious independent movement. Liberation paved the way for the establishment of the Republic of Korea, and we have achieved a remarkable feat under that name. Some seek to view independence separately from the founding of a country, but they mean to ruminate on the meaning of national foundation from the perspective that we established a country where sovereignty rests with the people. The attempt to separate the two will only cause unnecessary misunderstanding of national identity.

The path to the founding of our country was not without turbulence. After liberation, extreme ideological conflict divided the people and sent the entire Korean Peninsula into confusion. But amid the chaos, the southern half managed to hold general elections and establish the Republic of Korea. In this regard, our founding fathers helped democracy take root. They saw the hypocrisy of communists and boldly confronted nationwide riots and protests orchestrated by North Korea`s Communist Party and Workers` Party. Nationalistic forces headed by the right-wing Korean Democratic Party played a crucial role in taking control over the southern half. Indeed, the Republic of Korea was built on their efforts and sweat.

Left wingers who value Korean reunification more than anything else still say “the separate government in the South established under the patronage of the U.S. military government solidified the division of the Korean Peninsula.” They blame the founding fathers for this division. Secret documents declassified after the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, suggest Soviet leader Josef Stalin pushed for a separate government in the North. After establishing their own government, North Korean communists mobilized the Workers` Party and started the Korean War to communize the Korean Peninsula.

That our founding fathers made the right decision at the time can be proven by the North’s situation today. Though North Korea will also mark its 60th birthday Sept. 9, the North Korean people have nothing to celebrate about. They suffer from perennial economic difficulty and the world’s worst human rights conditions. Upon liberation, the North was integrated into the closed continental cultural sphere that included China and the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union unraveled in 1991. China remained an impoverished country until Deng Xiaoping reformed and opened his country to the outside world. Had we made the same choice as North Korea at the time, what would South Korea be like now?

The founding principles of the Republic of Korea were liberal democracy, market economy, rule of law and international cooperation. Those principles are enshrined in the Constitution as the country’s basic ideologies. Since the establishment of the government, we have laid the foundation for freedom and prosperity by strengthening ties with nations who cherish openness, exchanges and international cooperation. The United States and the United Nations have helped us achieve economic development and national security. The Republic of Korea is the result of this cooperation.

The last 60 years are not shameful history but a success story brought on by our blood, sweat and tears. For all the twists and turns, we have turned a country of poverty and despair into one with prosperity and hope over the past six decades. By virtue of the country’s higher power, Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, 20 years ahead of Beijing.

Now, Korea is standing on a new starting line. We should turn our national pride into hope and passion to bring about a better future. A better future means an advanced society. The advancement of the country, the people, perceptions and culture is the path to a peaceful and prosperous Republic of Korea that our founding fathers dreamed of. If the entire nation unites to reinvigorate the economy as we did 60 years ago, nothing is impossible.

To do so, the Lee Myung-bak administration must take the initiative and devise a new national vision to bring results going beyond the “miracle of the Han River.” As a reaction to the past decade’s excessive ideology, President Lee has presented pragmaticism as his guiding principle. Nobody, however, has provided a clear picture on what the government wants to achieve over the long run. Because of this, diplomacy has suffered setbacks and inter-Korean relations are now in their lowest ebb. Seoul should first establish firm principles for policy toward Pyongyang and flexibly implement them. The bilateral alliance with Washington must also further develop while maintaining friendly relations with other neighboring countries.

The most urgent matter for our country now is the economy. Though per capita income is not the only standard that determines an advanced country, it cannot be ignored. The nation had to wait 12 years to see per capita income rise to 20,000 U.S. dollars from 10,000 dollars. If it takes such a long time to achieve per capita income of 30,000 dollars and advanced nation status, we cannot say our future is bright. To overcome global challenges and survive in the fierce competition against Japan and China, Korea must come up with reliable strategies and solid plans that clearly suggest to the people what new growth engines we can rely on.

Labor should also do its share by deserting hard-line policies and cooperating with management. Businesses should exert efforts to improve corporate culture and productivity. This is the only way both sides can prosper. No less important is the restoration of the spirit of challenge and creativity.

With the introduction of the direct presidential election, procedural democracy has taken root to a certain degree. Yet we have a long way to go in achieving a quality democracy. Ideological confrontation, in the wake of liberation in 1945, has become a stumbling block to Korea’s advancement. Rational discussion and rule of law are being ignored and irrational collective egotism is prevailing. As shown in protests against U.S. beef imports, the protest culture has not improved at all from two decades ago.

Leadership that can integrate the nation is needed more than ever. It’s heartening to hear that President Lee will pledge a new start on the occasion of Liberation Day. The incumbent administration’s principle of "development and integration” should be followed by elaborate strategies and policies.

Conditions inside and outside Korea are unfavorable. If we fail to lift ourselves out of the trap set by reactionary forces, the Republic of Korea will lose a precious opportunity to make a leap forward. Celebrating the 63rd anniversary of liberation and the 60th birthday of our country, leaders and people from all walks of life should do their utmost to further develop our nation, keeping the principles of our founding fathers in mind.