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Caught between two giants

Our history as a hegemonic battleground that drives citizens out to the streets must end now.
Mar 16,2017
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Since Park Geun-hye was removed from office, acceptance and denial, celebration and anger have all been mixed in the public square. The internal division coupled with a complicated external situation ring loud alarm bells. But Park’s impeachment must be the end of the discord and the beginning of a harmonious future as the silent majority believes it is not the time to fight but to mend the wound.

Our politics should propose hope for the future and use positive language over negative. All politicians must share a sense of urgency for the fate of the nation and turn their eyes from political interests to the future. The impeachment has left a solemn lesson for the South Korean people. In retrospect, South Korea’s constitutional democracy has seen a series of tragic presidencies, from Syngman Rhee to Park Geun-hye. Many of them became imperialistic through factional politics, indulged in power and failed in communication and governance.

But Park’s impeachment has shown us the important lesson that power abuse in a winner-take-all system will inevitably come at tremendous national and social cost. It is time for all political factions to stop fighting for hegemony, break up the cliques and get a hold of morals and problem-solving skills. We all agree that South Korea needs a political reshuffle and innovation.

A serious concern is the repetition of tragic history. Our history as a hegemonic battleground that drives citizens out to the streets and public squares must end now. South Korea is stuck in two contests. One is the hegemonic battle between the U.S. and China in East Asia, the other is a deep-rooted confrontation between our liberals and conservatives. If we cannot get out of the two contests, we cannot decide our fate with our own will and intention, and South Korea will continue to have unfortunate and failed presidents.

As the post-Cold War rise of China and its expansionism in the 21st century clash with the U.S. military’s Pacific pivot, a full-scale hegemonic fight in East Asia has started. As the flash point is the North Korean regime, South Korea is faced with a dilemma between the United States, our blood ally, and China, North Korea’s de facto sponsor. But before the challenge of survival and reunification, South Korea cannot become an enemy to either side.

For a long time, South Korea has shared values with the U.S. as an ally and relied on it for considerable parts of national security. However, as the economic relationship with China has strengthened in the past three decades, China, a great power with childish attitudes, has been using its leverage to pressure South Korea.

As South Korea is caught between America and China, our political factions have different stances on foreign policy and security issues. As their disparate positions on the United States and China send mixed signals, our foreign and security policies can be seen as being inconsistent.

To defend our national interests in the hegemonic fight between America and China, South Korea must have a unified stance on national security to pursue our own interests based on our national competitiveness. We need to avoid excessive dependency on one nation and establish multidimensional communication channels.

We are now preparing the next page in our history. We should break away from politics hanging on to — and benefitting from — the past. The people want hope for the future, but politicians are attacking one another for past wrongdoings.

The biggest evil in our politics is factional politics and the establishment. The task of ending the vice must begin by giving up partisan interests. They must admit that in parliamentary politics, no evil can be corrected effectively without the spirit of coalition and cooperation.

The South Korean people must vote for the next president very carefully. In the politics of hegemony, neither a conservative nor progressive administration has succeeded. Presidential hopefuls should look back on why Roh Moo-hyun ended his life and Park Geun-hye was removed from office.

The basis of the people’s outcry was their hardships, uncertainty about the future, distrust in politics and unease about security. None of these fears was resolved by impeachment. They are the challenges left for the next president to handle and key issues in scrutinizing presidential contenders.

Over the past six months, South Korean people have displayed tremendous energy in solving the question of “why.” Now, politics should bring the energy together and focus on solving the questions of “what” and “how” in order to overcome this national crisis and enhance national strength.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 15, Page 28

*The author, a former commerce, industry and energy minister, is chairman of the North East Asian Research Institute.

Chung Duck-koo