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Steadfast for better or worse

Mar 09,2019
Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Three things have become heralds of spring: fine dust, Lionel Messi’s wins and President Moon Jae-in’s appointments from an ideologically loyal pool of individuals. They have become seasonal rituals. This thought came up as I watched Messi score crucial equalizers for Barcelona not once, but twice, during the team’s 4-2 win against Sevilla on Feb. 23. I was watching TV instead of mountain climbing due to the hazardous levels of fine dust. The Argentinian soccer superstar scored his 50th hat trick to complete his treble with five minutes remaining.

The Blue House plans a modest reshuffle as the president’s five-year term reaches the midway point. The appointments will hardly be surprising, given Moon’s habit of sticking to birds of a feather. Jang Ha-sung, economist-turned policy chief who was recently replaced, was tapped as the new ambassador to China. He will represent Korea in the capital of its most powerful trading partner regardless of his background, his diplomatic skills and his responsibility for engineering an economic catastrophe at home with his so-called income-led growth policies. His out-of-touch sensibilities do not matter as long as the president has blind faith in him. The president and his team insist they are ushering in change, improvements and new paradigms. How that can be achieved with the same old faces and policies is a question nobody seems to even want to ask.

What makes the government so arrogant and stubborn? The progressive front is determined to keep to its ideology because it is so distrustful of all others. It wants to do away with weirs along four rivers because they were installed by a past conservative government. We take showers and wash our hair every day. Once upon a time, it was a monthly ritual to go to the public bath. The population has ballooned since then. Water use today cannot be compared to the old days. We often forget, but Korea is a water-short country. During droughts and dry seasons, water shortages are serious matters in some regions.

The only option to save for a rainy day is to store water in reservoirs. Dams are built around the Han River to prepare for floods or droughts. Lives have improved as a result. The weirs on the four rivers perform the function of dams. They were built not many years ago at a significant cost. The formation of algal blooms during the summers is a problem, but it can be solved. The water doors can be opened during the dry seasons and closed at times of rain to prevent contamination. Advances in purification technology helps sustain water quality.

This is common sense. There can be fallacies in beliefs that become general, of course. There are many experts that can help straighten them out. If they can convince us we are not short of water or capabilities for storing and sustaining water quality through scientific and empirical studies and evidence, the public would understand. But this is not the process that has been followed. The government backs its assertions on the romantic notion that rivers should be left to flow naturally. Its abhorrence of whatever a conservative government has done is plain. But it’s not logical.

There are plenty of examples of the government pushing policies because it is not happy with past policies under conservative rule. It switched off perfectly good nuclear reactors and nullified an inter-government agreement on the comfort women issue.

The government wants to discuss easing some sanctions on Pyongyang with Washington even when negotiations on denuclearization have come to a full stop. Some sneer that the government will next move to restore the highway over the Cheonggye stream that was torn down before. Under the incumbent government’s logic, all the weirs and dams along the rivers across the nation should be removed to entirely restore their natural states.

Steadfastness is not always a good. The Korean economy could be heading into a lengthy recession similar to Japan’s. All the economic data is looking bad. The leadership sticks to its own people to run the government. Populist platforms all resemble the failures of the left-winged Democratic Party that briefly snatched away the ruling power from the long-dominant conservative Democratic Liberal Party for three years after winning the 2009 election.

Problems can be solved through united power. Vengeful politics relying entirely on a staunch support base cannot last. Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong.”

JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 30