ICAS Special Contribution

No. 2002-0801-MJC

A Vision for Korea in the 21st Century

Mong-Joon Chung

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Mong-Joon Chung

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge a contribution of this paper of Mong-Joon Chung to ICAS which he delivered at a luncheon, hosted by The Heritage Foundation, at the St Regis Hotel, Washington, D C, August 1, 20022. sjk]

A Vision for Korea in the 21st Century

Chung, Mong-Joon, Ph.D.

Your Excellencies.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am happy to be in Washington after the exciting activities of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. I find it very relaxing to be here, except for the airports. I am particularly grateful to Ed Feulner and his colleagues at the esteemed Heritage Foundation. I am very glad to have this opportunity to share with you my vision of Korean future.

With the World Cup now behind us, probably the next big event in Korea is our presidential election in December. So I would like to take this chance to take a moment to share some of my views about Korean politics.

Until ten years ago, Korean politics was almost synonymous with student demonstrations, tear gas and riot police. Today, we rarely see student demonstrations. Instead, we have orderly elections and peaceful transition of power.

However, that does not mean everything is fine on the political front. We still worry about regional rivalries, ideological polarization, political corruption, and the absence of effective and enlightened leadership at the national scene. Let me first try to look back and assess the political changes of the recent years.

What happened in Korean during the past fifteen years is nothing short of a political revolution. Policies such as the "Sunshine Policy," that would have been controversial in the past are being pursued by the government. One of key objections raised concerning the "Sunshine Policy" was that only South Korea is changing while North Korea is not and that it would result in disarming South Korea.

According to recent reports, there is a movement in North Korea toward adopting certain market mechanisms. As a result, price of rice has increased 550 times while the exchange rate has increased by hundred times. While this data has not been fully verified, it shows that North Korea is exploring at least a limited market economy. lf this is true, then we can say that this is another revolution, which may have a profound impact on the Korean peninsula.

Korean has also gone through a revolution in which candidates for high political offices, especially the party president are chosen by the rank and file members of the parties rather than being handpicked by the leadership as they used to be. As such, the level of popularity of a politician tends to be very volatile, making it difficult to sustain the same level of support for any length of time and the outcome of any election more difficult to predict than before. You must have noticed in recent months the ups and downs of the popularity of major presidential hopeful in Korea.

Even as these are significant political changes, unfortunately, in politics some things remain the same, or are getting even worse.

In the past, the main threat to democracy was from military coup d'etats or destruction of democracy by despotic leaders. Korea had its share of democratic reversals when the republic’s first president, Dr.Syngman Rhee became dictatorial. Korea then experienced a military coup d'etat in 1960 and a disguised one in 1980. Today, however, military coups have become almost unthinkable in Korea. Thus, the more relevant threat to democracy today tends to be of the creeping kind -that is, the danger of democracy being unable to perform and function properly.

You may remember there were times in the past when the former Soviet Union, directly or indirectly, influenced American politics. Similarly, North Korea can have an influence on South Korean politics. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with 250,000 soldiers facing each other across the most tensioned military spot in the world is the dire reality facing Korea. During the past Korean presidential elections, the candidates tried to manipulate and exploit the issues related to North Korea to their own advantage.

I hope that this will not repeated during the upcoming election in December. In formulating a policy toward North Korea and others that will affect the future of our people, we should not be victims of partisan politics. Both parties must give up the attempts to monopolize the national agenda. In this aspect, Korea can learn from the example of American presidents who have sought to achieve bi-partisan consensus through consultation with leaders of both parties.

This does not mean that the President must not have any party affiliation. (But when it comes to national issues -it is desirable for the President to exercise non- partisanship in deciding these policies). This may present a dilemma between an accountable government (that can be achieved through party politics) and a responsible government {that can he achieved though non- partisan politics).

In Korea, the Speaker of the National Assembly is required to forego partly affiliation as soon as he is elected to the position. This is to ensure that the Speaker maintains his neutral, non-partisan stance. As the power or the President of Korea is incomparably stronger than that of the Speaker, I think that it is essential for the President to maintain more of a non-partisan position as well.

Unfortunately, all of the past 7 Korean presidents did not fare well at the end of their terms. I think that this is because most of them have sought to reward their supporters and friends while penalizing their enemies and opponents. Whoever become the next President of Korea (myself. included), I hope that we could break this vicious cycle.

A related problem is the weakening of representative bodies, whose strength is essential for a well functioning democracy. The generally low quality of political debates, the relative lack of commitment by many to democratic principles, the appearance of political opportunism, old-style politics of bosses and cliques -- all these tend to contribute to undermining of the legitimacy of and support for parliaments and political parties. In countries with a presidential system such as Korea where the parliament has neither the power to form a cabinet nor effectively check and balance the executive branch, the weakening of the legislative branch is quite worrisome.

Finally, let me say a few words about the media. Thomas Jefferson said that
"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspaper or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Certainly, one key hallmark of democracy is free press. A press that is free to criticize the government is essential for democracy. Someone said
"freedom of the press is the freedom of those people who own press."
The press may also act on its own self-interest and try to promote it rather than working for the public interest. On the other hand, there is temptation on the part of those in power to suppress the press that does not cooperate, and to utilize the press that does. There is probably no quick solution to this vicious circle except to build an educated and enlightened citizenry on which the free and responsible press depends.

In a similar context, the founding publisher Mr. Chang Ki-young of the Hankook Ilbo, one of the major newspapers in Korea, once said.
"No one can use the newspaper, but anyone can use the newspaper."
The point I want to make is the following: It is not easy, especially in Asia, to build a democracy that is just and productive, a democracy that ensures freedom and creativity of the citizens. It requires vision, education, and sacrifice. But it is not an impossible task. In fact, some of us have already embarked on it and many are in the process of embarking on the difficult but worthwhile journey. Democracy did not originate in Asia but we are making it our own.

I have a reason to feel optimistic about our democracy and political development. It is because of what I witnessed during the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, which ended a month ago.

The World Cup has brought many benefits to Korea. I am talking about the economic benefits. I am talking about the intangible things such as unity and harmony among people, sense of pride and public confidence, and their new outlook toward the world.

The World Cup has contributed to bringing the Korean people together. It has helped to transcend age, gender, social background, and to overcome regional and ideological differences. We were all joined by the common cause and spirit. Some of you must have seen millions of Koreans rooting for the Korean team, in the stadiums, on the streets, in restaurants and bars, some in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The World Cup has given Koreans a sense of pride and achievement, not only because we played "good" football but because we have been able to host the event successfully and to enjoy ourselves doing it. Koreans have a history of suffering. We have had to live in tough neighborhood that included powerful countries such as China and Japan. Even though our country still remains divided, we have come a long way and now we have this great sense of being shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors and the rest of the world. We want to live in friendship and cooperation with our neighbors and to be able to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world.

This is a significant change in attitude from before the World Cup. In a survey of the Korea university students taken a few months before the World Cup, 65% of the students had answered that they would have preferred not to be born in Korea. But nowadays, I hear many young people proclaim, "I feel so good to be a Korean!"

Through the World Cup, Koreans have gained confidence in knowing that their experiment toward globalization has been successful. In 1627, a Dutchman named J. J. Weltevree who later adopted a Korean name of Park Hyeon first landed in Jeju Island. Together with Hendrik Hamel, a fellow Dutchman, they taught Koreans how to manufacture and utilize guns and artillery. About 400 years later, our national team football coach Guus Hiddink, another Dutchman, has transformed the Korean team into a world-class team, guiding it through the preliminaries to the semi-final. The Korean team became stronger under the leadership and expertise of a European coach, a foreigner.

Former U.S. Secretary or State Henry Kissinger is a serious football fan. Recently, he remarked that while Europe has already entered the 21st century in regional relations, Asia is still living in the 20th century. What he probably meant is that Europe has successfully formed the European Union that acts as a trans-national government while Asian countries are still preoccupied with such things as regional hegemony, ba1ance of power and national rivalry.

Like Europe, I believe that Asia is also a place where football can foster regional stability and prosperity. Football is a common language shared by all Asians. With Korea and Japan co-hosting and with China participating, the 2002 World Cup has provided a unique opportunity for the three Northeast Asian countries to start developing a sense of community. This year is the 10th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic normalization and 30th anniversary of China-Japan relations. Talking about football, the World Cup has had much effect on Korea’s foreign relations as well.

First, let me talk about relations with Japan. As you know, throughout history and especially in the recent century, Korea and Japan have experienced various difficulties in our bilateral relations. Japan colonized Korea for over 35 years from 1910 until 1945. Furthermore, some Japanese politicians continue to make offensive remarks distorting historical facts.

However, the experiment of co-hosting has also contributed greatly to bringing Koreans and Japanese closer together and making them understand each other better. There is a saying that
"a common project make enemies into friends."
Recently, I published a book entitled, "This I Say to Japan". I wrote this book not because I am an expert on Japan. I wrote it because I thought that Korea and Japan should understand each other better. This also means that sometimes we need to say what should be said even when they are not what one may like to hear.

Now, as for Korea-U.S.’s relations: I am sure that I don't have to stress the importance of Korea-U.S. relations. At the same time, both governments must pay close attention to rising 'anti-American' sentiment in Korea.

For example, during the World Cup, two junior high school girls were killed by U.S. military vehicle in the city of Euijungbu, a city very close to the DMZ area. In spite of the fact that this story was buried under World Cup fever, major Korean papers carried editorials criticizing the 'inconsiderate’ attitude of the U.S. in dealing with this incident. This type of situation can happen again and both governments must make an effort to find a better way to manage such situations.

I believe that the World Cup also will have a positive effect on the relationship between South and North Korea. Unfortunately, we did not have the players or fans from North Korea in this year’s World Cup. But there was strong interest in the event in North Korea. The North Korean state television showed South Korea's game with Italy, Turkey, and Germany. When the game was broadcast to the North Korean soldiers at the DMZ and when our team made the goal, they all cheered for their brothers in the South. Now we are trying to realize a game between South and the North Korean team some time in September.

All in all, the hosting of the World Cup has given Korea a tremendous gift -the gift of unity, pride, confidence, joy and a global outlook. I am glad that I was personally involved in these endeavors. I hope I can continue to serve the causes that bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to the people and the country.

Thank you.

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