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Moon’s compass

Moon must begin things as they are the end, and end things as if they are the beginning.
June 08,2017
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[KIM HOE-RYONG]
Public life is quickly shifting back to normal in the first month under President Moon Jae-in. The first 30 days of his presidency have played out in an orderly manner under a well-scripted plan. The president has maximized his honeymoon period by pushing forward his vision with conviction and determination. The media, which used to be critical of him, have all turned to approving, even lauding.

But earning praise from the people should not be the goal of governance. The responsibilities that fall upon the new administration are not that simple. They include complicated and structural challenges. The new administration has yet to set a direction on governance or start a debate on solutions to structural problems like revitalizing our lackluster economy, plugging the rise in household debt and promoting new industries. Moon will have to win the loyalty and commitment of bureaucrats and persuade market players that are resistant to change. On top of that, he will need to remain as humble as possible.

The president must keep ideological temptations at bay. Korean politics has swung back and forth from two liberal governments to two conservative ones in the past two decades. Both fronts have not been all that successful. If this liberal administration chooses to swing the opposite way from its conservative predecessor, governance will be shaken again.

Much like a pendulum, the administration must find equilibrium in carrying out state affairs. A pendulum’s movement hinges on gravity. The government’s pendulum must act based on domestic forces as well as international relationships. Its movement can be disrupted if it is pulled to one extreme by ideological forces. Moon must remember several points in order to keep his equilibrium.

First, he must not allow himself to tilt to one end. If a president loses his balance, he can become a shortsighted and narrow-minded leader. Moon was elected in the midst of public disgruntlement and resentment following his predecessor’s disastrous handling of the Sewol ferry sinking and her corruption scandal. But if he endeavors to please the public too much, Moon could lose his longer-term vision for governance.

In democracy, there are always winners and losers. State affairs lose balance if the leader supports the winning party or tries to relieve the losing party. The state must encourage winners and deliver comfort to losers to maintain balance and sustain co-prosperity.

Second, he must have the ability and will to command solitude. A leader’s virtue lies in self-control by overcoming loneliness. After a certain period, a leader will find himself among familiar faces and fall into a trap of self-conviction. He must try to find time to brood alone while keeping up communication with a diverse range of people.

Third, he must always try to refresh his surroundings. His group, too, could breed inner ills if they keep to themselves and distrust others. A political power usually breaks down from implosion of inner fissures and corruption instead of outside factors. Moon must stay alert to self-evolve so that inner circles do not gather mold and form an exclusive shell.

Fourth, the president must be able to choose the interests of the community in times of conflict. Moon will face tests of conflict in national, political and personal interests. He must be able to decisively yield his own interests for the good of the community and country. We pay solemn respect to martyrs, independence movement leaders, soldiers and firefighters because of their honorable sacrifice. A national leader should be able to surrender his life to the state and forego the interests of relatives and families.

Lastly, Moon must begin things as if they are the end, and end things as if they are the beginning. He has received public accolades for his unconventional beginning. But he could lose public confidence as he faces one challenge after another. If he believes he is on the right path, he must remain steadfast until he gains public trust and support.

We hope Moon will complete his presidency with success by keeping to these virtues. Moon said he would learn from both mistakes and achievements of the past. The people wish to see a Korean equivalent of Barack Obama by beginning humbly and exiting in grace and honor. We hope he will learn from the flops of sensational governance a la Donald Trump. Now that a month has passed, Moon should take a breather to calmly study the waters — and direction — before he steers.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 28

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

Chung Duck-koo