Two campaign issues
WASHINGTON ― Korea’s two public policy debates are receiving international attention as the opposition party seeks to nullify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and to scrap a naval base on Jeju Island.
The opposition party is now reversing the two most important public policies they had initiated without adequate explanation for changing its stance. If the opposition party is easily changing the public policy discourse, then it may not be a stable political party the public trusts. The presidential candidate four years ago and the former prime minister under President Roh Moo-hyun are now advocating the nullification. They contradict themselves, because they had advocated the trade pact for economic growth and prosperity and national security needed for peace under the Roh administration.
It is hard to understand their changing language and political behavior. Both of them are still loyal to the late Roh. Both of them are anxious to retake the power from the conservative governing party.
The Lee Myung-bak administration is not popular, but the opposition party’s criticisms on the Lee government’s completion of the Korea-U.S. trade pact and beginning of construction of the Jeju naval base are confusing the public.
The opposition party cannot survive if it thinks that the Korean economy will be fine without the American market and that national security will be fine without the Jeju naval base.
I hope God loves peace-loving people and protects the nation. But God is far from the Korean Peninsula. The opposition party’s attacking of the Lee government can hardly be acceptable to many rational citizens. Many Korean people think that the country cannot maintain the current economic status without its trade with the United States and cannot defend the seas surrounding Korea and sea lane communication without adequate naval forces in the South Sea.
Scrapping the trade pact will make the Korean economy a permanently under-developed economy and harm Korea’s competitive sectors, such as electronics, construction, automobiles and shipbuilding. Nullifying the trade pact will be pathetic and hilarious to the international community.
Stopping the construction of the naval base may harm the natural beauty of the island. However, the beauty of the island can be harmoniously balanced with the national security needs.
Constructing a harbor will change and damage nature but the government promised to preserve the beauty of the island as much as possible.
Idealistic environmentalists may deny all human construction of residential houses, schools, roads, industrial parks and sports complexes. We should preserve the primitive and virgin land and sea if we want to be idealistic environmentalists. We should not exist. They should not exist on Earth, if they want to conserve nature as it was.
Hawaii is still a paradise although it has Pearl Harbor with the Pacific Fleet Command. I am an environmentalist and a nature-loving poet, but I want to advocate national security and civilization over bucolic nature.
I was surprised to see an international network of anti-Jeju naval base activists in the United States and elsewhere. I did not know there were many foreign people loving Jeju Island. I appreciate their attention, but I will appreciate their care more when they advocate peace and civility in the Asian sea. I hope they are also interested in Korea’s national security and their international network condemning China’s protection of North Korean dictatorship committing crimes against humanity even at this moment as well as China’s growing military ambition.
In 2012, Korean politics will be focused on the two grandiose public policy issues. Opposition parties advocating nullification of the pact and the naval base will not go very far. Who knows? Mass democracy is not always rational. A left wind may sweep the Korean Peninsula.
The ruling Saenuri Party may be able to defend its two policies. I forecast that the Korean voters will make relatively easy decisions in the voting booths in April for National Assembly elections and in December for the presidential election.
The opposition coalition may be enormously powerful but its political stance on the two sensitive issues will be shaky, because the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh administrations had initiated the pact and the naval base for the nation’s economic prosperity and the nation’s security.
Once the opposition party deviates from the policies set by their liberal leaders, its legitimacy is not based on traditional leadership, but something else.
The nation will witness serious public policy debates between the defenders and attackers of the Korea-U.S. trade pact and the naval base. All elections are supposed to provide forums for political education for citizenship.
The Korean people will be mature and rational from a series of public policy debates during the campaign period. Citizenship requires mature and rational decision-making in the voting booths.
I hope Korean politics will make a turning point for mature and intelligent discourse of public policy this year.
Dr. Choi is a political scientist retired from a long teaching career in the United States and Korea. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.