Talking-points for speech to The Sejong Society.
“Seven Challenges for Korea’s New President”
Notes for Sejong Society and East-West
20 and 21 February
work for ICG/HRNK
has gotten off to a bumpy start;
still trying to crawl out from under the scandal cloud and he had
difficulty announcing his new cabinet
- “SKY Team”: (Somang
Church, Korea University and Yongnam). However, I think the church and school
ties (only five from Ko-dae) are overstated, but
Kyeongsang is not- 10 out of top 25
- Some things don’t change: Seoul-dae still
dominates with 11 out of top 25 posts, ave. age
- Foreign policy team: All good friends--Foreign Minister Yu
(skiing); BK Kim, Kim TH
- Not challenges: 747 campaign pledge is bogus and
waterway is white elephant
Rebuilding Sungryemun and place better security
system in place.
2.)) Building a cohesive, centrist
political party: The GNP has just
turned 10 years old, which is almost a record for a Korean political party, but
it is suffering from deep splits that will not be resolved even when the party
kicks the United Democratic Party in the April NA elections. Ruling party often called the “two country
party” or even “two person party.”
Personalities are far more important than policies in Korean politics.
3.)) Changing the Constitution to
create concurrent election for the presidency and the National Assembly. Switching to a four-year, one possible
re-election system like the US would reduce the lame duck status that soon hits
one-term presidents and would be much more streamlined. Current system is inefficient (holiday for
each level) and insures lower turnout.
Reduce chances of
divided government: This would lower
the chances of “yeosoyadae”
Rare Opportunity: The gap between terms is at its
lowest in the past 20 or for the next 20 years because of the 4-year and 5-year
4.)) Striking a balance between economic
justice and growth:
Dealing with Junior: (start with Lee Kun-hee story: received power from his father, is trying to
pass it on to his son but the genetic material does not seem to improve with
each generation and the legitimacy of passing on power is being called into
question; he’s reclusive, there are rumors about his health, but he is untouchable.
--One of the great disappointments with Roh
was that despite quest for equality, corporate titans have never received more
than a slap on the wrist. Still looks
like “yujeon mujwae…
capitalism and family-run chaebols remain an obstacle to higher economic growth. The “Korean Disease” is still thriving. As a former Hyundai man, is he prepared to do
something about this?
FDI declined for the third straight year to less
than half of what it was 7 years ago.
But Lee has criticized Lone Stare debacle and will not be resolved soon.
5.)) Striking the right balance with North Korea will not be easy.
- While there is a broad
consensus on the need for a more balanced policy toward the North instead
of the unconditional engagement of the past decade, striking the right
balance between carrots and sticks will not be easy.
- However, Pyongyang
has become so economically dependent on Seoul
that it will have to learn to live with a more assertive partner. It is high time Seoul
rediscovered its voice when it comes to requiring better monitoring of
humanitarian aid, raising human rights concerns, and insisting on better
behavior for receiving economic assistance.
- President Lee’s campaign
rhetoric often left American observers with the impression that he would
be much tougher on North Korea,
but based on my last conversation with him when he was mayor, Washington
may be getting its hopes too high.
It will certainly be easier to coordinate policies toward North
Korea, but not necessarily easy.
- When it comes to
humanitarian assistance, channel more through the World Food Program and
insist on better monitoring.
- Tie expansion of Kaeseong to the workers being paid directly (currently
more than 20,000 workers and rising fast).
- Tie expansion of tourism
projects to Pyongyang
providing a better accounting for the roughly 500 South Koreans and 20
Japanese and other foreigners abducted by the North since the Korean War.
6.)) Relations with the United States
- Relations with the United
States and can only improve after
hitting rock-bottom under President Roh. All of the Korea
watchers who appeared on two post-election panels
held in Washington, believe
Lee will mend frayed relations with the United
In many ways, Presidents Roh and Bush
provided the ultimate test for the glue that holds bilateral ties
together. President-elect Lee will
be a vast improvement simply by choosing his words more carefully.
- U.S.-Korea relations began
deteriorating from the moment President Kim Dae-jung
made his hasty trip to Washington
in early 2001 when W took office.
Relations headed further south under President Roh
Having hit rock bottom about the time Roh
suddenly demanded operational control of Korean forces during wartime, the
only real direction the relationship can go is up.
- Nevertheless, there are
several steps Korea’s
new president can take to place Washington-Seoul relations on a firmer
footing. The first is to establish
a personal relationship with President Bush as soon as possible. Even though President-elect Lee spent
several months at George Washington
University before becoming
mayor of Seoul, which is when
I got to know him, he is still relatively unknown to the Bush
Administration and Washington
policy circles more broadly.
- For President Bush, personal
ties are paramount. Having lost his
best buddy counterparts in Japan,
he is forging a new group of close friends for his last year in
office. Lee should try to be one of
them. However, he should avoid DJ’s
mistake of trying to impose his views on Bush. Bush has finally come around on the
necessity of engaging North Korea,
but clearly bristled last summer at the APEC meeting in Sydney
when Roh pushed too hard for a peace treaty
during their photo-op.
- At the same time,
President-elect Lee should also look for opportunities to reaffirm the
alliance. More important than
setting up a committee of elder statesmen (there are already several of
these) is taking concrete steps to stop the bleeding in the alliance by
reversing bad decisions and reaffirming the good ones. It may be too late to delay the
timetable for the transfer of operational control, but the consolidation
of American bases in Korea
and the location of a new U.S.
embassy are far from settled.
- Similarly, announcing his
commitment to send troops back to Afghanistan and maintain current (token)
force levels in Iraq would also send a positive signal to Washington, as
would trying to help push the Korea-U.S. FTA through the National
Assembly. The list of possibilities
for reinvigorating the alliance is embarrassingly long.
7.)) Crafting a strategic vision for Korea and Korea’s place in Asia and the world.
- Balancer concept was bogus
- Will China
be a friend or foe? History dispute
was a wake-up call
- Lee should quietly raise the
issue of North Koreans in China
during first meeting with Chinese leaders.
Forced repatriations must stop.
At the very least, NK women married to Chinese citizens should be
allowed to remain in China.
- Ask Lee to adopt a more
proactive stance toward North Korean refugees in China
and beyond. After all,
constitutionally, North Koreans are ROK citizens. Korean embassies and consulates should
be much more helpful to asylum-seekers.
- Managing relations with Japan
will not be easy--most leaders suffer from profound historical amnesia and
see no contradiction in being obsessed with 16-7 abductees and comfort
women (Mike Honda and Nori Onishi
are public enemies 1 and 2!).
- President-elect Lee only has
a few more weeks to craft a clear, strategic vision for Korea,
something that was sorely missing from his presidential campaign
platform. The average Korean may
have few concerns when it comes to North
Korea or the United
States, but becoming a revered
statesman will mean more than just waving a magic wand trying in vain to
raise economic growth. A newly unemployed prime minister in Australia
can attest to that.
"Happy New Year-Jan. 2007 Article
"Meet an American Imperialist", April 28, 2007
"Expanding Korea's Soft-Power", May 26, 2007
"Leaving Seoul", July 11,2007
"Leaps of Faith", Sept. 2,2007
"A Brewing Revolution-Oct. 2007
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