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Advice for the new president

The new president should avoid looking at the world through the keyhole of his office.
May 11,2017
It is fortunate that national leadership has been restored in Korea after a long period of chaos. But the new president will take office with heavy responsibilities in a time of great fear. Koreans have desperate hopes and concerns for the future.

The chaos of the past six months revealed Korea’s capacity, limits and class divide. But Koreans want to reject Alexis de Tocqueville’s saying that every country gets the government it deserves. We are about to begin a new challenge of building a proper nation without limits and class divide. The new president will have to govern based on division of power and consensus during his five-year term and move through the watershed of transition from economic and social stagnation to a path for new development.

This year, the situation in the Korean Peninsula has been aggravating, with the risk of war elevating to its highest level since the truce. U.S. President Donald Trump uses diversion tactics and tight sanctions against North Korea, while U.S.-China relations and North Korean nuclear weapons continue to show new developments.

In the worst security crisis, there are concerns and fear that powerful nations might make secret deals to bypass South Korea, the most concerned party, and undermine our survival. The new administration will have to take initiative to reinforce the ROK-U.S. alliance and stabilize the Korean Peninsula by normalizing relations with neighbors.

For the new president to undertake and succeed in such a critical mission, he can learn from the mistakes and failures of his predecessors. He should modestly acknowledge that governing South Korea is not an easy job. Many of the presidents in the past 30 years have ended their terms in abject failure. They were swept up in factionalism and did not embrace the whole nation. They couldn’t overcome the lonely nature of the job and couldn’t prevent corruption and power abuse by friends and relatives. They kept a distance from professional policy makers and promoted amateurs, weakening the country’s problem-solving capacity. They also lacked the insight to distinguish between qualified and incompetent officials.

Once a candidate wins an election with a clique, he will be trapped in it. The first step of success is to break out of the clique after the election. If he does not bring together divided voters with leadership and tolerance, the national schism will continue to aggravate.

The first prerequisite for success should be to embrace all candidates and factions that lost the election, as well as all citizens, and establish a collaborative government.

Second, he needs to take political initiative from the public squares to the National Assembly. Through cooperation among the Blue House, National Assembly and civic society, the public policy process will be enhanced.

Third, unrealistic populist campaign promises should be drastically modified. The president should honestly ask for the understanding of the country’s citizens. Otherwise, the new administration will suffer from lack of resources.

Fourth, the new president should make successful appointment decisions. He needs to invest time and effort to find the most capable talents. He should not look at the world through the keyhole of his office. He must get out and climb the mountaintop for a wider view. Then, he will realize that there are many capable people who can make contributions to the nation.

The new president must break out of ideologies and factions and make practical and realistic decisions. The international community and some citizens may have a touch of uneasiness over the new president and his supporters. But the new president will modestly listen to concerns and clear all doubts.

In December 1997, Kim Dae-jung was elected president. Upon his victory, he realized that the nation was on the edge of a precipice. So he looked around the world with practical eyes and gave up three things.

First, he broke out of factions and ideologies. Then, he gave up adventurous policies and focused on overcoming the country’s immediate economic crisis. Finally, he kept away amateur pundits and chose professional bureaucrats for his administration. He knew that one mistake could bring the nation down the precipice.

He strictly kept a distance from his Donggyo-dong faction and formed a cabinet with the best minds of the time. President Kim led the nation in overcoming the crisis by giving these bright minds full authority, and he got along with the international community by establishing new rhetoric.

Today, the new president is in a situation just as rough as what Kim had been in 20 years ago. He should contemplate why President Kim, who was wise and experienced, made such choices in a desperate situation.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 10, Page 28

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

Chung Duck-koo