Recently, the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington launched a project called “Renewing America.” The CFR came up with a compelling reason for it. According to their recent statement, “Some of the most important national security threats to the United States come not from without, but from within. With its Renewing America initiative, the Council for Foreign Relations is monitoring nine critical domestic issues that shape the ability of the United States to navigate the demanding, competitive, and dangerous world of the twenty-first century.”
Indeed, it seems timely that the CFR felt such urgency in its call to renew America, because the US has been suffering unprecedented social and political disruptions lately. The Council lists nine domestic areas of intervention: “Democracy and Governance,” “Education,” “Energy and Climate Change,” “Future of Work,” “Immigration,” “Infrastructure,” “Innovation,” “Social Justice and Equity” and “Trade and Finance.”
The above nine issues facing the US can also be applied to South Korea. South Korea, too, should renew itself by conjuring up revolutionary solutions to the problematic issues that have undermined the country for the past few years. In addition to the nine American issues stated above, therefore, South Korea should identify her own critical issues in order to overcome the current crisis and replenish the nation. Here are the nine most compelling issues -- seven domestic and two international -- for which we should find the solutions in order to renew South Korea.
The most critical issue in today’s Korea is figuring out how to end the ideological warfare that has divided both families apart and the nation. The Korean Peninsula is already divided into the South and the North due to ideological differences. It would therefore be particularly sad and pathetic if the South were divided again into Left and Right. Unfortunately, South Korea has become a polarized between the left wing and the right wing. This toxic political atmosphere has gravely threatened our national security and stability for the past few years. With a nuclear-armed North Korea, South Korea needs unity and solidarity, not internal brawls and conflicts.
The second compelling issue is how to increase childbirth and the size of the population. Currently, South Korea is experiencing a decrease in population due to the significant decline in the birthrate. Working women are reluctant to have children due to the lack of child care facilities and the generally unfriendly atmosphere for pregnant women at workplaces. The government policy of giving out monetary incentives for childbirth has largely failed so far. Thus, we need to find a special emergency measure to solve the problem.
Perhaps one way to increase the population is an active and open immigration policy, which becomes the third issue. Surely, an influx of immigrants can play a significant role on increasing the diminishing population of South Korea. For that purpose, we should open up the border and welcome immigrants. Then, we should help them find jobs, assimilate into Korean society and settle down easily.
The fourth issue is how to provide a safer environment for young people. The recent Itaewon disaster reminds us that we have seriously neglected safety in our society. Whenever disasters happen, we tend to make a fuss for a while only to forget them completely until another disaster happens. As our maxim says, “we repair the barn only after the cow goes missing.” Now, we should make safety a top priority of our society.
The fifth urgent issue is education. Experts have pointed out that we should overhaul our education system, so that its aim is to mold our children into decent human beings, not to pass the SAT to enter college. In addition, we should stop brainwashing students with a radical political ideology or use them for political purposes, which is morally wrong.
The sixth issue is how to provide young people with jobs. If our young men and women cannot find a job, their rage will be kindled and soon explode into a ball of fury that will burn our society. Before that day comes, we should do our best to stabilize and even boost the economy, which is the seventh issue.
One of the most urgent overseas issues is how to deal with the threat of North Korea. The nuclear weapons and unscrupulous missile launches by North Korea are a grave threat to South Korea these days. Having an unpredictable, hostile country that possesses nuclear weapons for a neighbor poses a significant problem, so we should be fully alert and be prepared for the worst.
Finally yet importantly, we should prepare for the inevitable clash between China and the US. We need to explore the best way to deal with it through brainstorming. People say that we should take the US' side and at the same time have a good relationship with China. In reality, however, it will not be easy.
We can renew South Korea by solving the nine issues stated above.
By 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.