ICAS Special Contribution
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

[N.b., This article appeared on the Editorial Page of the the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 27, 1999, and appears here as a special contribution with permission of the publisher.]


Kim has earned Liberty Medal, yet S. Korea still has far to come

By Sang Joo Kim

Kim Dae Jung, president of South Korea, is scheduled to visit Philadelphia next week to receive the 1999 Philadelphia Liberty Medal on July Fourth. The medal honors "an individual or organization from anywhere in the world that has demonstrated leadership and vision in the pursuit of liberty of conscience or freedom from oppression, ignorance or deprivation." Martin Meyerson, chairman of th e Liberty Medal selection committee, said, "During almost a half century . . . Kim has been not only a symbol of democratic values in the Republic of Korea, but also a heroic figure in its progress toward democracy. He has won the admiration of his p eople and of leaders on all continents."

To say the least, it is an eventful moment for Koreans as well as for people who uphold and cherish what the Liberty Medal stands for. With this occasion at hand, I want to bring to President Kim's immediate attention a few issues and concerns relating to the challenges ahead for Korea.

The concept of rule of law, not rule by law, not rule for law, should be the fundamental basis for a new Korea. Only this is the core principle for democracy. International norms and standards of law and human rights should be the guidelines; they embody the ground rules for all nations in the next century.

Reforms should be sustained and expanded into all sectors of society, including government and political life. Kim Dae Jung's administration has tried hard to institute reforms, but much more must be done. The culture of corruption is like a malign ant tumor that can metastasize and become life-threatening.

Current foreign policy needs to be overhauled. It served its purpose as an experiment and now requires innovations set for a lasting peace and shared prosperity. Such changes will reflect both the lessons of history and the facts of the regional an d international balance of powers. Pyongyang has been managing itself against all odds, while maintaining and fortifying its almost half-century-old strategic goal: reunifying the Korean peninsula and developing diplomatic relations with the United States and the rest of the world - with a remarkable consistency and focus.

A social safety net should be set in place for the displaced and dispossessed. Such a program will seek compassionately to lessen the pain and suffering of the more than 2 million people made unemployed by Korea's recent austerity measures.

Exorcize the interminable regionalism that has haunted our region for too long. Korea's political history has been a rivalry of province against province. Those in power award positions only to people from their own province. Such tensions devour national unity and can lead to tragic consequences.

Show you are the bona fide symbol of the Korean democracy and anti-regionalism movements. That is how your supporters have always thought of you. But recent reports tell disturbing news of prisoners of conscience still in jail; conduct by some of your senior cabinet ministers and party allies sends an alarm to those who have supported you to this date. Now is the time to defend the image of your leadership against such charges.

Philadelphia is my adopted hometown. Philadelphia is where the United States of America was born. Philadelphia is also where Phillip Jaisohn, the first naturalized Korean American, lived at the turn of the century. Mr. President, you know that he is known in Korea as the "Father of Korean Democracy." Philadelphia is home of the Liberty Bell, an ultimate memorial to freedom and liberty: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." Please carry with you th e spirit of our ancestors who fought and bled for enduring principles and be a truer champion of human rights, democracy and freedom.


Sang Joo Kim is senior fellow and executive vice president at the Institute for Corean-American Studies.

© 1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

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