MB vs. DJ in US
By Jason Lim
President Lee Myung-bak is going to the United States from April 15 to 19.
So is ex-President Kim Daejung, from April 15 to 25.
Both MB and DJ are going with the same key agenda item. They want to voice their respective ideas on what the U.S. and South Korea should do when it comes to North Korea.
DJ is the father of the ``Sunshine Policy,'' which sought to peacefully and actively engage North Korea to draw them out into reconciliation and eventual reunification. His policy of engagement led to the historic summit between him and Kim Jong-il, which resulted in the Nobel Peace Prize for DJ in 2000. The mainstay of the sunshine policy was the separation between politics and economic cooperation.
MB, on the other hand, won the December presidential election in large measures by playing on the general resentment of South Koreans against the sunshine policy and its seeming largess without getting any measurable returns except to prop up an immoral and corrupt despot. MB's government recently declared that continued economic aid would be tied to progress in the six-way talks over North Korea's denuclearization. Politics and economics have been tied together again.
Granted, the size of the soapbox is weighted heavily for MB. His summit trip will be covered by hundreds of international correspondents and his every word pored over by experts.
But DJ is not without resources himself. Instead of D.C., he will use Harvard and Tufts as his podium to defend the sunshine policy. Although not hundreds, there will be plenty of reporters descending on the forum at the Kennedy School of Politics to report on what he has to say.
So, who will be the more effective defender of their respective visions? Who will be the more persuasive advocate for their policies? Who will win this battle, the wily and tested veteran or the young upstart armed with vigor and confidence?
That will depend on two things.
One, the winner will be the one who recognizes that their audience in the U.S. is not limited to politicians, academics, think-tank experts, and foreign policy-makers. They must recognize that they will also be speaking, albeit indirectly and through the press, to win the hearts and minds of the American people. They must appeal to those Americans who might have a limited grasp of foreign policy details but are guided by their firm belief in the sanctity of freedom, belief in America as the bastion of democracy, and who willingly send their children to war in faraway places when the call comes from the national leadership.
Cynics might snicker at the naivete of these Americans. But the winner must remember that, in an election year, it is their collective voice that will speak more loudly than the latest hems and haws from any center, institute, foundation, or society located within the beltway. A regular Joe on the streets of St. Louis has the same number of votes as the best-known talking head on CNN: one.
Two, tell a good story. Most Korean politicians in the U.S. come laden with planeloads of intellectual arguments for this or that. But, as Aristotle says in his "Rhetoric," the speaker's character is the most powerful means of persuasion that he possesses.
And how do you communicate character to an audience? Through a powerful public narrative that appeals and resonates with the personal narrative that underlies the hopes, dreams, and beliefs of those in the audience.
So, who has a better story, MB or DJ?
They both do. And interestingly enough, they both have achieved the quintessential American dream, Korean-style.
MB, the fifth child in a poor family, worked collecting garbage during the day and studying at night to gain admission to a prestigious university. He then joined Hyundai Engineering and Construction and became its youngest president at the age of 35 based on his legendary performance, management savvy, and leadership, literally risking his life on occasions.
MB's life's story reads much like the story of South Korea's modern industrialization, an improbable tale of rising from the ashes in the aftermath of a devastating war to take its place as one of the leading nations of the world. MB's life represents not only his personal journey from rags to riches but is symbolic of South Korea's collective rise to economic power. His is the face of South Korea's Miracle on Han River past, present, and leading into the future.
On the other hand, DJ's life represents South Korea's evolution from a banana republic dictatorship to a mature and vibrant democracy. DJ was the leading democracy activist in South Korea for more than 40 years, facing kidnapping, torture, and death by dictatorships that sought to silence his eloquent and unceasing defense of Korean people's rights to be represented. His is the face of South Korean democracy past and present, and will always be its silent conscience in the future.
Both are incredible stories that feed powerfully into the founding American myths of freedom, fair play, and redemption that still live in the hearts of most Americans. The protagonists happen to be Korean but their stories are universal and will find an empathetic audience in the U.S.
But who will tell their story better, MB or DJ? That will determine whose time in the U.S. was more effectively spent.
Jason Lim is a research fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute, researching Asian leadership models. He can be reached at email@example.com.