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Democracy, Freedom, Advancement and Reunification

Posted August. 14, 2010 10:36,   


At a preliminary meeting for the first South Korea-Japan summit in 1951, Seoul’s chief negotiator Yang Yu-chan suggested that both sides reconcile and leave behind past animosity. A government representative from Tokyo then said, “What reconciliation must we make?” This arrogant comment signified Japan’s refusal to recognize its past wrongdoings over 35 years of colonial rule, including its forced annexation of the Korean Peninsula and a drive to eradicate Korean culture. Bilateral relations in 1953, when South Korea’s per capita GDP was a meager 67 dollars, were a source of humiliation for the people.

Many years passed before Japan called ties with South Korea a “partnership.” There is no need to reiterate the importance of national power and standing in the harsh global order. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan Tuesday issued an apology that is considered progress by issuing a statement to mark the centennial anniversary of Japan’s colonization. The statement said, “The national pride of the Korean people was deeply hurt by colonial rule that deprived them of national sovereignty and culture against their will.”

Sunday marks the 65th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the 62nd anniversary of the Republic of Korea. Liberation Day this year holds more significance because of the centennial anniversary. South Korea established the foundation for becoming a sovereign nation by overcoming social unrest after national division and has evolved into the world’s 15th-largest economy. The past century has brought both glory and shame to the country.

The fate of North Korea is in stark contrast to that of South Korea mostly due to differences in the regimes and values each side chose. The founding fathers of South Korea made the correct decision by choosing a free democracy and a market economy. The South’s first President Rhee Syngman contributed to national security and prosperity by establishing an alliance with the U.S. thanks to his superb knowledge and diplomatic ability. Though Rhee deserves criticism for running a dictatorship and a corrupt government in the last days of his term, his contributions must be recognized, namely laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Republic of Korea and overcoming the ruins of the Korean War. President Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and 70s also established a firm foothold for industrialization and economic growth by concentrating investment in key industries and nurturing the heavy chemical sector.

Democratic forces facilitated the growth of democracy in the country, an urgent task after industrialization, by spearheading the April 19 Revolution of 1960 and the democratization movement of the 1980s. The country’s founding fathers and democratic forces made Korea what it is now. During the process, the gap between the two Koreas in wealth, civilization, freedom and democracy significantly widened. South Korea’s nominal gross national income in 1998 was 28 times that of North Korea and 39 times in 2008. The South’s trade volume was 226 times that of the North and export volume was 384 times more in the same year. The Republic of Korea’s stellar achievements are the results of the people’s hard work and sweat and the victory of a free democracy and an open market.

The country still has a long way to go, however. The North Korean threat is worsening. China is also growing in power backed by its economic might, so world powers are locking horns to advance their interests on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea should deepen cooperation with the U.S. and Japan, two nations with which it shares the values of a free democracy and a market economy, while diversifying its diplomacy. To raise the funds needed for the rapidly rising demand for welfare and prepare for contingencies in North Korea, promotion of economic growth is needed.

In 2008, President Lee Myung-bak announced in his Liberation Day speech plans to build a history museum. The country’s history after liberation and the foundation of the Republic of Korea is not a history filled with opportunists as claimed by leftist forces or a history of defeatists. Building on the history of a miracle achieved by overcoming hardship and adversity, the country should inspire future generations with pride and utilize past experience as an engine for national development. More support and interest from the government and all walks of life are needed to make the museum a place of national integration and consensus and a venue to educate future generations.

A museum built on a Seoul street that symbolizes the nation and serves as a national brand will be truly meaningful. Considering the system and budget, building such a museum seems difficult. Going forward, the country will face many challenges and threats as it did in the past. Recognizing this harsh reality, the 50 million people in South Korea and the combined 80 million Koreans around the world should unite to forge a way forward to the future through freedom, democracy, advancement, prosperity and reunification. Liberation Day should serve as an opportunity for all Koreans to commit themselves to these objectives.