Tuesday, January 03, 2006

HAPPY new Year From Korea. http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200601/200601010001.html

Well written. Party photos to follow in a few days

World Standard Time and Korean Time in 2006
As individuals weave their lives into the fabric of time, so do nations, and the life of a country, just like the life of a man, is measured by what it has done with the time allotted, what history it has built from the raw material of passing time.

The fate of three Northeast Asian countries -- Korea, China and Japan -- 100 years ago was determined by the time they lived through. While Korea and China were clinging to a vanishing pre-modern and semi-feudal era, Japan alone crossed the threshold to modernity. Korea and China were mere outposts, but Japan made the leap into the standard time of world history. That is what divided the three into a colony, semi-colony and colonizing power.

The 60 years of the Republic of Korea since its independence in 1945 are the history of our desperate endeavor to catch up with modern times, seeking an entry point to the standard time of world history we forfeited in 1905. The fact that our per-capita income hovered around $60 in the 1960 means that our entire population was perforce held up in pre-modern times. In only 40 years we moved on ahead, achieved a per-capita income of $15,000 and joined the ranks of the world's 10 biggest trading nations. We too had at last come in from the backwaters of history to world standard time. That is the history of the Republic of Korea.

Many around the world who had witnessed these developments were stunned to hear that history disparaged as a defeat of justice and a victory for opportunism. That is not to argue that our recent history has been flawless. But from a vantage of world history, it is a textbook case for erring so little and achieving so much.

We are not alone. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, labored under pre-modern conditions, starvation and famine during its 50-year semi-colonial status and 30 years as a Communist dictatorship. Now it, too, it is finding its feet. If Korea has performed a shortened version of Japan's 100-year history in 40 years, China is racing toward shortening our run to 20 years. Under a principle of nurturing its strength in secret, China once preferred a low profile, hiding its light under a bushel, but now it is becoming more assertive when that is necessary.

It is perhaps natural that Japan is now trying to strengthen its alliance with the U.S. and that some in the country insist that Japan should engage in more activities abroad like many others, with a recovered pride befitting its status as the world’s second largest economy with a population of 120 million.

Yet today, only two of the Northeast Asian nations that were not so long ago vying to emerge from their historic backwater are competing at the center of world history. China is bracing itself to provide a counterbalance to the U.S., and Japan envisages a policy of reining in China's regional hegemony in alliance with America. The U.S., meanwhile, has embraced Japan to employ a dual strategy of restraining and cooperating with China.

What the three powers have in common is that Korea hardly figures on their map. They discuss it only when they are talking about struggling North Korea, a country caged in pre-modern failure but trying to embrace the bane of modernity, nuclear weapons.

No matter that we have progressed in leaps and bounds, we have been erased from their minds. A mere 15 years ago, Deng Xiaoping told his people to learn from South Korea; now China barely gives us a second thought.

It only took a few years for that to happen. “I will not be concerned at other men's not knowing me," says Confucius. "I will be concerned at my own want of ability.” And it has been Korea's want of ability that in the last few years has made it drop out of the future-bound race among the three Northeast Asian neighbors, where one led one moment and another the next, and retreated into the past. It is our leaders we have to thank for this, with their insistence that we can only have a future if we right the wrongs of the past, and their refusal to brook any debate whether that is true.

No country in the world has ever built a present and a future from righting the past alone. Far from it: leading powers glorify their past to according to their present and future needs. There can be no more accurate gauge of where we stand today than the fact that the government’s biggest project for the decisive year 2006 remains the righting of past wrongs. We now live in a paradoxical land where the present is the past and the past the present.

That is why, in 2006, we will have to be more vigilant than ever of developments at home and abroad, observing closely not only how the government will rewrite our history but also how local elections in May will more sharply distinguish those who can take us into the future from those who want to hobble us to the past.

That also goes for the direct and indirect judicial reforms that will among other things replace a majority of judges in the supreme and constitutional courts. If we let an administration with only a year before its tenure expires name the dignitaries who will sit in judgment over us in the two courts for the next six years, it will be tantamount to extending the lifespan of a government whose constitutional life is over.

The people must be watchful as hawks, too, lest the antiquated ideology our country’s left wing is refusing to consign to the dustbin of history fatally undermine the market economy, which alone sustains South Korea's prosperity. Another task, equally important, is to observe the injured Korea-U.S. alliance and make a carefully considered strategic judgment about what an alliance should be and what allies we will need, not merely for the immediate challenge of resolving the North Korean nuclear problem, but also for the era of unification, when it comes, and in the decades beyond.

Amid all this, we cannot shirk a responsibility to help release our brothers and sisters in North Korea from a prison that time forgot into the daylight of the 21st century so that they, too, can live their lives by world standard time.

Success or failure in the New Year will be determined by our ability to defend development in lockstep with 21st century standard time, and with it the future entrusted to us by the earlier generations who created and nurtured the Republic of Korea, against the forces who would return us to a historical backwater.

We stand at a fork in the road. To one side lies the way to a prosperous future keeping time with our regional neighbors and a role on the world stage. To the other lies the cul-de-sac of parochialism and regression. Let us make the right choice.

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