New president urged to assert national interest
By Kim Jae-kyoung
South Korea needs a strong, outspoken leader to overcome ongoing challenges and lift the country to the next level, analysts said.
The country is now being pushed around by global powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula, and domestically, it is suffering a deep division among people following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
The challenge comes amid a new order in Asia in the making, with a rivalry among the major countries intensifying as a result of footloose protectionism and nationalism.
A new president, who will be elected in a May 9 snap election, should not only bring unity to the country but also assert the national interest against four large powers — the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
Coincidentally, the big four are all led by powerful leaders with unique leadership skills — U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Although they have different styles, there is one thing in common. They all embrace nationalism over globalism to pursue their own goals.
In this regard, the most important quality for a new president should be strong leadership with solid communication skills.
"I think South Korea needs a leader with the stature to meet with those neighboring leaders and assert Korea's national interest," Mauro Guillen, director at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, told The Korea Times.
"It is important to have a legitimate and outspoken leader."
Since his inauguration in January, Trump has stuck to his "America first" policy by pushing for trade and security policies lopsidedly in favor of the U.S. He has vowed trade wars against close allies, including Korea, to fix the U.S. trade deficit.
Xi is spearheading China's nationalist approach. China is taking retaliatory measures against Korea through a tourism ban and boycott of Korean products over the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system. It is also endeavoring to strengthen its foothold in the disputed South China Sea.
Putin has been under fire for his alleged deployment of a land-based cruise missile that violates a Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty. Russia is trying to increase its clout in Europe and Asia by rebuilding its military power.
Abe is no exception. Known as the most conservative leader in Japan's postwar history, he is portrayed as a hard-line nationalist encouraging a spirit of nationalism and is bent on asserting dominance in the region.
Changing rules of game
A series of developments led by these leaders indicate nationalism is taking center stage and every country will prioritize the protection of their own interests. In other words, the world will see a war between nationalism and globalism for decades to come.
Experts said in this time of uncertainty, it is important for Korea to elect an active, decisive president with strong leadership skills and forward-looking insights.
Simply speaking, Korea needs a president who can say "no" when pushed against its national interest and can fight to follow its own agenda.
"What Korea needs badly is a strong leader who can rally the Koreans to tackle thorny political and economic issues," said Sohn Sung-won, professor of economics at California State University.
He pointed out that the new president should not bend to the U.S. and China on security and trade issues.
"Hopefully, the new leader will point the way for the Korean economy to reduce its dependence on China and diversify its export destinations," he said.
"Externally, the leader should negotiate forcefully with the U.S. on trade issues and convince China that Korea can't be pushed around."
Internally, the new president will also face equally daunting tasks. First, the new leader should be dedicated to rebuilding unity among people by ensuring effective communication and sharing vision.
Also, they should change the rules of game by overhauling the country's political system as well as reforming economic models.
Under the new government, collusive ties between politics and business should be severed, while economic reforms that favor competition and innovation should be carried out.
What is important is that these tasks could be only possible when a strong leadership accompanies unwavering efforts to communicate with the people.
"I think everyone agrees that what Korea wants is a president who communicates, in which 50 percent of the communication is listening," said Anthony Mitchell, managing director of Euro-Asian Business Consultancy.
"Equally important isbuilding a competent team with an agreed vision which is communicated and widely shared through open minded debates," he added.