Ending the politics of no agreement – The Korea JoongAng Daily

Lee Ha-kyung
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Korean politics is locked in bigotry. It repeatedly fails to reach even minimum agreement and then falters further astray. The government is relocating the bust of Korean independence fighter Hong Beom-do (1868-1963), a hero in the Battles of Fengwudong and Qingshanli against the Japanese imperial army in northeastern China, out of the Korean Military Academy. Again, the decision was not based on bipartisanship.

The Defense Ministry cited Hong’s history of joining the Soviet Communist Party and his involvement in an internal conflict among independence fighters, which caused a deadly clash with the Soviet Red Army in Svobodny, Russia as the reason for the expulsion. But all of that took place before the rise of Kim Il Sung, founder of North Korea. During that time, Russia (the “Soviet Union” after 1922) had supported the independence movements of colonies. The army of independence fighters teamed up with Russians to fight imperialistic Japan. Can Koreans fight fault with the war hero who joined the Communist Party 1927 in hopes to collect pension during his old age in Russia? Under such reasoning, U.S. and British leaders Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are betrayers to their nation for collaborating with the Soviets in the war on Nazi Germany.

History records testify Hong wailed with other soldiers after independence fighters were killed during the armed conflict with the Soviets in 1921. The accusation about his act of injustice against his own comrades is groundless. President Park Chung Hee awarded him the Order of Merit for National Foundation in 1962 and President Roh Tae-woo sought to bring his remains back home from Russia. President Park Geun-hye christened a new submarine after him. All the honor came from conservative presidents.

The homage went overboard under liberal President Moon Jae-in who in 2017 brought Hong’s remains from Kazakhstan, where Hong lived and died after the Soviets’ forced relocation of ethnic Koreans. Moon ordered the erection of the busts of Hong and four other independence fighters in the military academy to make them the new “fathers” of the Korean military as well as incorporation of the independence army in the curriculum for cadets. Instead, the history of the Korean War was made an optional subject. His emphasis on the race and anti-Japanese struggle came at the expense of the defense of the nation and security. The decision was unilaterally made without any consultation with the opposition (now governing) party.

We are forced to witness the tragicomic results from the absence of dialogue in Korean politics. If any of the decisions had been discussed and coordinated, these extreme results could have been avoided. The partisan conflict is tantamount to a civil war. President Yoon Suk Yeol was instrumental in creating new trilaterialism among South Korea, the United States and Japan during the Camp David summit. Yoon should be credited for the turnaround in the bilateral relationship with Japan at its worst. The next move of coping with China and Russia requires bipartisan diplomacy.

The majority Democratic Party (DP) keeps to its knee-jerk opposition. It campaigns the treated wastewater discharge from Fukushima nuclear plan as “nuclear wastewater release” to rally against the Yoon administration. The president provokes the governing party and cabinet ministers to deal with DP in a warlike manner. DP Chair Lee Jae-myung has gone on a hunger strike. He claims he is fighting for the people, but he is more suspected of building a guard against an upcoming prosecutorial request for his arrest. The National Assembly session in September faces a limbo, although it has over 200 livelihood bills and next year’s budgetary to deal with. The two parties are poles apart.

Politics cannot work on one wing. Willy Brandt, who fought against the Nazi threat, as the head of the Social Democratic Party struck a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union under the leadership of Kurt Georg Kiesinger, former deputy head of the Foreign Office’s broadcasting department in the Nazi regime. Writer Gunter Grass wrote to Bradt to persuade him against the “bad marriage.” But the reconciliatory federal government had been a success largely thanks to Kiesinger’s engagement of Brandt’s Ostpolitik policy, or détente with Soviet-bloc countries in relationship with the East German government, according to “German Power, German Prime Ministers” written by Kim Hwang-sik.

Germany, which caused two global wars and devastated Europe, was able to unite in less than a half a century. The miracle was possible because leaders were capable of compromising and coming to a matured agreement. Germany under liberal or conservative governments from Kiesinger, Brandt to Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl all succeeded Ostpolitik. 

President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during a Cabinet meeting on Monday in the presidential office in the Yongsan District, central Seoul. [YONHAP]

Korea was a colony and remains bisected for decades and de facto at war. Before we complain, we must look within. We must be ashamed of defaming the history of the Korean independence movement due to politics incapable of coming to an agreement. To achieve permanent peace and unification of the Korean peninsula, all parties must learn to compromise and cooperate.

Politics must be a mutual confession to come to the next-best possible solution through engagement of the contradictions of another. We must break ourselves from the horrid curse of “I-live-if-you-die” extreme rigidity so that we can all live.

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