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The Nobel art of self-defense

Discussions and consensus are desperately needed at home, just as much as peace.
Mar 24,2018
President Moon Jae-in may receive the Nobel Peace Prize this year. In fact, I am earnestly hoping for happy news from Oslo, at the end of this year, just like Moon’s supporters. We are all hoping for it not because the Nobel Peace Prize is an honor for Moon, but because it means that an infrastructure for peace on the peninsula is being established.

It was only last year that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchanged harsh words, creating fear of a nuclear war. Taking that into account, Moon’s skillful duet of dialogue and sanctions deserves applause. If you compare a hypothetical situation of the continuing exchange of threats between Washington and Pyongyang without agreements for summits to the current situation, it is clear that Moon deserves the appreciation.

When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to then-President Kim Dae-jung in 2000, his work for democracy contributed largely in addition to his efforts for peace. “His election in 1997 as the republic’s president marked South Korea’s definitive entry among the world’s democracies. As president, Kim Dae-jung has sought to consolidate democratic government and to promote internal reconciliation within South Korea,” the committee said in its press release.

It later went on to say that, “Through his ‘sunshine policy’, Kim Dae-jung has attempted to overcome more than fifty years of war and hostility between North and South Korea.”

In fact, it is hard to criticize Moon’s domestic politics. The ruling party is lukewarm about the constitutional amendments, but I believe Moon is trying to strengthen the democracy of discussion and consensus as importantly as his work to build peace on the peninsula.

Moon’s path so far has shown his firm commitment to democracy. But his initiative to amend the Constitution pushed forward over the past few weeks invites criticisms in two ways. First, Moon’s proposed bill includes many parts that are supported by the entire nation, but all his efforts lose their credibility in front of a giant obstacle — his attempt to introduce a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election for a second consecutive term. I strongly support Moon’s plan to introduce new rights for life, safety and information. It is belated, but I also enthusiastically support Moon’s plan to strengthen local autonomy and introduce a recall election of lawmakers and a system to allow the public to propose a bill.
But the new presidential system could taint all that progress. Over the past 30 years, we failed to succeed in eradicating the root of the imperial practices of the ruling system even under the framework of a single, five-year presidency.

Because a president enjoys rich political resources at the beginning of his or her term, checks and balances never work. Various systems were introduced for the National Assembly to check the president’s power to make appointments and to check the president’s influence over the ruling party, but those measures were ineffective in front of the president’s overwhelming power during the early months. Furthermore, men in their 50s and 60s, who are not familiar with horizontal and open communication, are the majority of the Blue House secretariat and the ruling party lawmakers. They won’t oppose the president.

Unfortunately, no presidential aide dared to protest Moon’s seriousness that he wants to keep his election pledge of amending the Constitution. As Prof. Choi Jang-jip pointed out, Moon is not an imperial leader. But it is ironic that Moon, who was elected with the high expectations of the candlelight protesters, is opening the path for an imperial president with up to eight-years in office in the future.

I once stressed that conservatives must accept the method of democracy that Moon used to decide the fate of the Shin Kori nuclear power plants. The method of making decisions through discussions and debates must have been used more freely and widely to prepare for the amendment bill, a matter far more important that the nuclear plant’s fate. The Blue House officials’ briefing on the amendment bill and the Blue House’s latest pressures on the National Assembly fall short of the democracy Moon achieved last year.

I want to say again that I hope Moon wins the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope the administration actively creates a framework for peace. But discussions and consensus are desperately needed at home, just as much as peace. I hope Moon, who managed to foster the first signs of peace, will visit Oslo at the end of this year following his work for a simultaneous advancement of democracy and peace.


Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

JoongAng Ilbo, March 23, Page 31.

*The author is a political science professor at Chung-Ang University and a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Jaung Hoon