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[Kim Seong-kon] Ten propositions for Korea’s brighter future

Now that the Korean people have chosen their new leader, who will steer the country for the next five years. Many Koreans are full of hope and expectation about the upcoming new era in South Korea. While congratulating the winner, I have 10 propositions for a brighter future for South Korea, which President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol might want to consider.

First, our political leaders should be mindful not to resemble Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” who drags his ship and the entire crew into annihilation because of his personal vendetta and his stubborn belief that the white whale, Moby Dick, is an evil he must destroy. In US news journal the Hill, James R. Bailey, a professor of leadership development at George Washington University, recently published an intriguing article, “Vladimir Putin’s search for ‘Moby Dick,’” in which he argues that a leader who acts like Ahab will surely put his people in great danger. Indeed, Ahab is self-righteous, obsessive and compulsive. A good leader should be the opposite: He should be an open-minded, flexible and an ideology-free person who cares for the safety and welfare of his people first.

Second, we hope President-elect Yoon will appoint competent experts to his Cabinet, not amateurs who are either part of his entourage or who helped him in his election camp. When and if he works with competent specialists, he can lead the country successfully. Most especially, we need experts in diplomacy, national security and the economy, because foreign experts have been sounding the alarm that South Korea’s diplomacy squeaks feebly, its national security is imperiled and its economy is faltering.

Third, we need to restore and strengthen our friendship with the US and Japan, which has been deteriorating in the past few years. At the same time, we should stand up against overbearing, bully countries that frequently threaten us. If we kneel down before those domineering countries, they will never respect us.

Fourth, we should discard strategic ambiguity and show which side we are on. As Michael Green at CSIS advises us, we should join other democratic countries to protect the weak and stand for justice. Green asserts that doing so will be an extremely valuable strategic asset. If we do not, no country will come to rescue us if we are under attack in the future. Who would want to help a country that turned away from other countries’ ordeals?

Fifth, national security should be our priority too. Now the world is anxiously watching Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Experts say that if the international community allows it, Taiwan will be the next, and then perhaps South Korea will follow, too. In the Asia Times, for example, Bradley K. Martin wrote a rather disheartening article titled, “If Putin has his way, Kim Jong Un may be next.” In that essay, borrowing from North Korean defectors, he points out the possibility of North Korea’s temperamental use of its arsenal against the South. Although the probability may be low, we still need to prepare for the worst.

Sixth, due to the indiscretions of populist policies, our economy is no longer rosy and needs emergency care. Foreign experts have pointed out that today’s South Korean economy strikingly resembles the Japanese bubble economy that began collapsing in the late 1980s. This should worry us.

Seventh, despite its seeming impossibility, President-elect Yoon still should pursue national unity and reconciliation by embracing even those who did not vote for him. Currently, two mutually antagonizing groups are tearing apart Korean society. The new leader should do his best to stitch up the gaping wounds of the people. He should always keep in mind what Leslie Fiedler said, “The middle against both ends.”

Eighth, the People Power Party should know that many people who voted for Yoon were not necessarily conservatives. They just wanted a new Korea. Therefore, the People Power Party should be reborn as a charming conservative party, truly embodying authentic values of conservatism such as noblesse oblige, decency and the protection of people’s property and accomplishments. The Democratic Party of Korea, too, should take a hint from its recent unpopularity and be reborn as a truly liberal party that embraces liberal democracy, free trade and the free market economy, instead of a radical, progressive party that pursues socialism.

Ninth, we should build a country based on common sense and global perspectives. We should build a society where everybody is equal before law and in human integrity, rather than in wealth and ability. If we do, South Korea can be not only a “developed country,” but also a genuinely “advanced country.”

Tenth, we should put an end to political revenge that has been so ruthless and rampant under the excuse of “purging the accumulated vices.” However, politicians who broke the law, committed crimes or caused serious damage to the country should take responsibility.

We strongly hope that our new leader will build a society where we can live happily, without fearing or hating our government. Then the future of Korea will be brighter than ever.


Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.
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