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Learn lessons from JP

June 25,2018
A great politician left us after leaving a monumental legacy. Former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil (JP) died last weekend at his home in Seoul at age 92. We cannot help but have mixed feelings about the passing of a controversial political guru who lived through the troubled modern history of Korea.

To some, JP was a politician who shepherded the marvelous rags-to-riches industrialization and modernization of the nation after the Korean War as well as a “kingmaker” who contributed to the development of a fledgling democracy though a peaceful regime change for the first time. But to others, JP was a man who took part in a coup and helped President Park Chung Hee consolidate his dictatorship, as well as a “master of politics” who lowered the level of our party politics by joining forces with the authoritarian regime in 1990 and by taking advantage of regionalism for his politics later on.

The two perspectives are not entirely wrong. But such contradictory assessments also testify to the daunting challenges he had to confront at a period full of upheavals. JP based his political views on pragmatism. He pressed ahead with the 1965 normalization of ties with Japan in the face of public outrage to help pave the way for modernization of the country.

Whether a state can pardon another for its massive damages on individuals remains controversial. But without the $800 million compensation the Seoul government received from Tokyo, Korea could hardly march toward industrialization. His wisdom still shines as no other country has ever been able to transform itself into an advanced nation after war. As his credo dictates, you cannot enjoy freedom and democracy without economic power.

Such practical views helped JP pursue politics until the end without blind allegiance to a certain ideology. The 1998 coalition government between his United Liberal Democrats and the National Congress led by former president Kim Dae-jung were the results of the first-ever merger between an industrial force and a democratic force in Korea.

JP’s political philosophy transcending ideology to achieve a bigger goal resonates today when our politics are ridden with conflict and rivalry. Our embattled conservative parties, in particular, must learn from his legacy if they want to survive. They must prioritize pragmatism over ideology.

JP always underscored the need for politicians to serve the interests of the people. Without such humble attitudes, our conservative parties will perish soon. They must struggle to move toward the politics of integration, not division.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 25, Page 30