The year 2021 is the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese horoscope, people born in the Year of the Ox have a strong sense of duty and responsibility. It states: “People born in the Ox year are reliable and trustworthy. They put their entire heart into everything they do. They feel great responsibility toward their family as well.”
They are also strenuous, conscientious workers whom you can trust fully.
In 2021, South Korea should prove that she is as dependable and trustworthy as an ox. If we are not faithful and honest, we will surely lose our friends and allies. If we are not responsible, we will lose respect and credibility, as well. Indeed, who would want to befriend an unreliable and irresponsible nation?
Looking back upon 2020, however, we realize that we may have lost respect and trust from other nations due to our ill-conceived policies and bad decisions. In the eyes of Washington and Tokyo, for example, South Korea undeniably has had serious trust issues of late. Recently, Washington is baffled and disappointed in South Korea because she has tilted heavily toward China and North Korea rather than to the United States, which is her ally. Tokyo, too, is annoyed and dismayed at the fact that the Korean government has chosen not to honor the previous agreements between the two nations.
In countries where business is important, people value credibility, reliability, and honesty. However, it has evidently become a common view among our leaders that Koreans do not need to heed the above virtues, which are crucial for doing business. The problem is that foreign countries find such actions irresponsible and unreliable, and as a result, Korea has inevitably lost respect and credibility in the international community.
Therefore, we should be careful not to lose trust in our relations with other countries. In reality, however, we have often been careless. In 2020, for example, we made Maryland taxpayers angry. Recently, the Washington Post carried a long article titled, “Hogan’s first batch of coronavirus tests from South Korea were flawed, never used.” The article states that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan “spent $9.46 million in state funding to import 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea that turned out to be flawed and weren’t used, emails, documents and interviews show.” Then it continued, “The Hogan administration quietly paid the same South Korean company $2.5 million for 500,000 replacement tests.” Alas! South Korea lost credibility and trustworthiness in the United States in 2020.
South Korea also had domestic trust issues in 2020. For example, the Korean people lost confidence in their lawmakers when they faithfully carried out the wishes of the administration by passing controversial bills that might thwart democracy, human rights, and the freedom of speech. Consequently, people understandably feel betrayed by the National Assembly, which has seemingly forfeited its primary responsibility of overseeing the administration.
The administration also dismayed the people by not keeping its initial promises. For example, communication between the government and the people are scarce in the Moon administration, despite its initial assurances. Moreover, the misguided real estate policies have crushed the dreams of those who want to own a house because of skyrocketing prices. Outrageously heavy taxes, too, have infuriated people who have suffered from the recent unprecedented economic recession.
Meanwhile, many Koreans feel betrayed by the fact that amateurish factional supporters from the presidential campaign camp have occupied virtually all of the governmental posts that require highly professional skills and expertise. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, people who were associated with Lee’s alma mater, Korea University, were everywhere in the government. When Park Geun-hye was president, those who were in her presidential campaign camp filled nearly all the available posts in the government. Alas! Nothing seems to have changed.
These days, even foreigners are concerned about what is happening in South Korea. They are worried about the authoritarian government, the deterioration of democratic rights and norms, and the misguided foreign policies of South Korea. The issues of human rights and freedom of the press amid a growing totalitarian social atmosphere have also concerned them. It is embarrassing that South Korea is losing so much of its reputation and esteem in the international community.
In 2021, South Korea should regain respect and trust by acting accordingly. A Korean journalist recently pointed out that in numerology, 21 means “luck,” “risk,” and “a roll of the dice.” She also mentioned that in blackjack, 21 is the key number that determines whether someone wins or loses the game.
In 2021, South Korea will roll the dice, take a risk, and test her luck. We may be lucky and prosper or be unlucky and crumble. The important thing is the nation’s trustworthiness. In the Year of the Ox, we should be loyal and faithful to our allies so that they regain their trust in us. After all, we cannot afford to lose our credibility, the result of which would be fatal to our country.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.