Roh Moo-hyun has youth on his side
Roh Moo-hyun has youth on his side

After a dramatic back-and-forth struggle at the polls, Roh Moo-hyun edged a narrow victory to be elected South Korea's next president on Dec. 19. With cries of delight, the people accepted this seemingly miraculous fact. Roh's victory seemed like magic after Chung Mong-joon withdrew his support for Roh at the last minute. People could hardly believe the news.

Roh's victory is significant as a milestone in South Korean politics. It not only completes the succession of a new generation, ending the era of old-man politics under the "three Kims" -- Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil -- but also will lead to a reorganization of the nation's political scene.

We can already anticipate the split-up and reorganization of the opposition parties led by Lee Hoi-chang and Chung Mong-joon, changes that will allow a new generation of political figures to come to the fore, but at present, we still can't judge how great the influence of these changes will be.

Roh's victory has the following implications: First, the spirited support of young voters of the so-called Internet generation served as a guiding force that shaped the final outcome of the election.

Second, it highlighted South Korea's dynamic quest for change and high hopes for reform and improvement.

Third, it showed the unstoppable force of South Koreans' anti-US nationalism.

The voters gave an opportunity to Roh's radical reform faction and cast off Lee's conservative pro-US factions. At the same time, they proved that democratic development can't be reversed. After one transfer of power and five years under the leadership of the democratic reformer Kim Dae-jung, they couldn't possibly go back to the conservative hardline path because to do so would contravene the desire for change that has become part of the pulse of society.

The fact that democratic politics can continuously develop is in itself a tangible indicator that the society is full of vitality. Taiwan could learn from South Korea's experience.

Looking at Kim Dae-jung's track record over the past five years -- he promoted cultural development (not just raising people's level of cultural refinement but also developing the ability to export popular culture) and consciousness reform (liberating people from the habits of thought developed under years of authoritarian rule). He mobilized the country and government policy to develop computer and Internet-related industries, making the youth a leading force in society. He also raised the status of women, thoroughly subverting the traditional values that dictated that women are inferior to men. Women's participation in politics and health issues affecting women and children received close attention and proper safeguards. Most importantly, he did an excellent job of saving the economy, receiving praise both at home and abroad and rebuilding people's confidence in the economy.

But in the final year of his term Kim saw two of his sons convicted for corruption and sent to prison. However, compared to his predecessors, Kim's administration was still relatively corruption-free and relations between government and business were relatively normal. The greatest irony is that he came into office in early 1998 and immediately shouldered the burden of the financial crisis that threatened the nation. This lifelong crusader for democracy then had to clean up the political garbage left by 50 years of authoritarian rule. History has certainly toyed with him with unprecedented cruelty.

Nevertheless, Kim was able to use the flexibility and adaptability that characterize Koreans from his part of the country, Paekche, to weather all storms. As soon as he took office, he made public his "DJnomics" (Dae-jung economics) and vowed to rectify the authoritarian era's problems of government financing, collusion between government and business and corruption by means of democracy and a market economy. He urged the public to discard outdated models of thought and established a consensus that survival depends on everyone seeking change together. Within five years the "citizens' government" led by Kim completed the structural adjustments and reforms that had constituted their mission of rebuilding the country, and South Korea now faces a bright future.

Like President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Kim Dae-jung headed a minority government supported by only 40 percent of the electorate. Both men also faced strong-arm tactics used by majority opposition parties that threatened them with boycotts. After Kim came into office, his first task was to rescue the economy from the depths it had reached, a task even more onerous than Chen's mission to "do his utmost for the economy." Where Kim had an advantage over Chen is that he had more political experience before taking office. In an Eastern society that respects seniors, Kim also had the authority of a patriarch. Thus even if the opposition parties and the mainstream media opposed him, they still didn't dare break tradition and go against his wishes, and they allowed him to carry out his policies to put the economy in order.

Roh considers himself the successor to Kim Dae-jung. Known as "the man from Pusan," he won't turn against Kim. Future interaction between Kim and Roh will resemble the relations between former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen. That Kim will play the role of a father figure and continue to influence policy behind the scenes is easy to imagine. The other two Kims have already faded away. Only Kim Dae-jung will still have political influence with the new administration.

The keynote of Roh's economic policy is to seek growth and distribution simultaneously. He plans for a 7 percent annual growth rate and hopes to achieve growth through distribution.

What most worries the chaebol is Roh's obvious and consistent anti-chaebol stance. When he served as a legislator, he once advocated dismantling these massive business conglomerates according to a plan by which the government would buy up their stock and distribute it to the workers in the companies. We can anticipate that he will continue with Kim Dae-jung's policy of prohibiting the chaebol from operating in areas outside of their core expertise. Moreover, he will facilitate the reform of the chaebol by establishing more transparent and efficient management and financial systems, and in this way he will gradually weaken their monopolistic position in the economy.

Early last year, Roh stated that he wanted to nationalize three major South Korean newspapers, Chosun Ilbo, Joong-Ang Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo. This provoked a strong backlash from these papers, which harshly criticized him. In the end, he had no choice other than to change his tune and claim his words were "drink talking," but the damage to his relations with the mainstream media had already been done. Roh isn't worried, however, because his supporters are members of the Internet generation. They rely on news from the electronic media and simply don't read these newspapers.

Roh hates newspapers which enjoy benefits and exert influence beyond anyone's control. In recent years, he has brought a lawsuit against the Chosun Ilbo, vowing to fight to the end against this largest of conservative reactionary papers and refusing to compromise. Even today, he still refuses to be interviewed by the paper.

Late in the evening of Dec. 18, after Chung Mong-joon announced that he was withdrawing his support for Roh, over 3 million people logged onto the Internet to spread this news before the polls opened at 6am the next morning. Moreover, they urged Roh's supporters not to waver in their loyalty. This unshakable supporting force was precisely the weapon that secured his victory.

Since Roh is intensely aware of how important the Internet is to him, his administration will invest in the development of the information technology industry by budgeting over 500 billion won(US$400 million) to carry out its "IT Top 1,000 Project." The plan is to establish an IT media park and the international center for technological cooperation. In the IT industry, he will also establish a Northeast Asia standards cooperative body. The time for reviewing patents will also be shortened to meet the standards of advanced countries.

In order to break up certain circles in the capital that have become too tight-knit as well as to promote balanced development throughout the country, Roh advocates establishing a government agency for balanced development and formulating a special statute for balanced regional development. At the same time, he proposes to move the nation's administrative center to a spot near the city of Daejeon in the center of the country. He would like to establish different areas as distinct industrial centers and develop particular strategic industries in each area. He will adopt a planned management system to deal with cliques inside the capital.

In addition, Roh will work hard to distribute educational resources more widely by developing community colleges and relocating universities to the provinces in accord with the needs of each area in developing as an industrial center. He will also combine community colleges to develop universities with expertise in particular areas. The government will play a role by managing the network of community colleges and by centralizing the investment of research and development funds.

Apart from the issue of domestic economic development, Roh's economic proposals also include numerous plans for the unification of the Korean Peninsula such as linking future road systems with China and Russia. He envisions establishing a multinational Northeast Asian railroad company and linking up with China and Russia via a rail line connecting Seoul to the North Korean city of Shinuiju as well as an East Sea Line. These are collectively referred to as the "iron silk road." The intent is to develop the Korean Peninsula as a key link between sea and land. Although some experts believe it would be more convenient to take the Siberian route, Roh feels that the fundamental connections to the mainland should be settled upon through discussions by the proposed Northeast Asian railroad company.

As for developing the Korean Peninsula as a logistics hub, his plans center on Incheon International Airport. This airport will be expanded and developed into a transportation hub while ports at Incheon, Kwangyang and Pusan will also be upgraded and the rail links previously mentioned will create a network of tracks stretching all the way to Europe. Corresponding systems of software will also be put in place.

To develop tourism, there will be a movement to "build a beautiful country" based on traditional culture and regional variation. The government will aid in the establishment of tourist parks and strengthen marketing and advertising efforts. There will also be major improvements made to facilities for lodging and guided tours. Domestically, there will be wider implementation of a plan to stagger vacation times and the distribution of citizen's travel coupons designed to stimulate domestic tourism.

Roh will basically continue to expand the mass transit system by completing a high-speed railroad and importing magnetic-levitation train technology. He will also cultivate the manufacture of environmentally friendly automobiles.

Roh's plans for weeding out collusion between the public and private sectors include revising the Political Financing Law as soon as possible in order to make campaign financing more transparent. At the same time he will do his best to bring in a system of class-action lawsuits in order to make the management practices of the chaebol more transparent as part of their reform.

He has sworn to guarantee the independence of the central bank, letting it adjust policy affecting interest and exchange rates. He will also guarantee the term served by the bank's chairman so that it won't be influenced by a change of administration. He will end interference in the nomination of financial and monetary committee members by the Ministry of Finance and create a system whereby committee members are nominated by various business groups.

To handle relations between labor and capital, Roh will strengthen the Committee on Labor, Capital, and Government in order to improve labor relations and establish a mechanism for social cooperation. As for letting civil servants organize a union, he supports the name "Civil Servant's Union" and supports their right to bargain collectively, but he opposes a right to strike collectively. Roh approves of the rapid implementation of the two-day weekend, and he would prefer to deal with any problems as they arise. Regarding the hiring of foreign laborers, he supports the use of a permission system. The current system of "internships in industry" will be scaled back in accord with its original objectives.

To achieve fairness in taxation, Roh would like to reform the tax system by adopting a principle of "absolute comprehensiveness" for inheritance taxes. He opposes any further reductions of business taxes and plans to lower the tax rate for individuals by widening the tax base.

Roh approves of the basic principle that state-run enterprises should be privatized and believes that this process should continue. However, he advocates prudence with regard to privatizing national banks and backbone industries. To minimize undesirable side effects, policy should be formulated and implemented only after thorough research has been done.

He will establish an agency for the guidance and promotion of business and plans to set up special funds to support local businesses by expanding government purchasing of products from venture capital firms. The government will invest in outstanding venture capital firms through annual funds and will also establish an entrepreneur's university. It will formulate special legal measures to aid small and medium-sized businesses with manpower issues in order to improve the bad work environment for small and medium-sized businesses.

To safeguard farmer's incomes, Roh will expand the system of direct subsidies to encourage and reward the development of high quality rice. In preparation for unification or natural disasters, he will implement a system of public reserves. He believes agriculture should be preserved as a strategic industry.

Roh advocates using proactive labor market policies to strengthen the job skills of those seeking work, especially the young and the elderly. He wants to activate information exchange between those seeking employment and businesses seeking employees, and he wants to strengthen vocational training and adult learning programs to benefit employment.

For South Korea, this election was a major battle between the generations. The younger generation won, and the elder generation was forced to pass the torch and step aside. A new political chapter featuring members of the postwar generation has formally begun. The support of the youth will be Roh's greatest political capital in the future, and the defining characteristics of the Internet generation are seeking change and not fearing failure.

Since the time that Roh first created a nationwide stir in May until his election victory in December, the perception he created in the minds of young South Koreans was radically different from the traditional impression of political corruption. His name is synonymous with new hope. If DJnomics succeeded because the idea that survival depends on everyone seeking change together was used to create an environment conducive to change, then Roh will use his Internet advantages to lead an even more rapidly changing South Korea and keep the pressure on his Asian neighbors.

Can Taiwan afford not to follow suit and instead continue squandering resources on internal strife?

Taiwan's ruling and opposition camps both have very complex feelings about the elections in South Korea. However, rather than just looking at who won and estimating how much existing connections will now be worth, it would be better to look pragmatically for a common language and values that are shared with South Korea's new leader. Such things can be used to consolidate bilateral relations, and they are more effective and meaningful as well.

Now that freedom, democracy, human rights and rotation of political power have all become common value standards for both Taiwan and South Korea, there will be many areas where the two countries can work together cooperatively. Certainly these will not be restricted to traditional foreign policy issues. We shouldn't continue ignoring South Korea or trying to understand it through superficial analogies. The people of Taiwan should humbly learn a lesson from the South Korean elections, using them as a guideline for reform and improvement in our own society.

The people of Taiwan must also acknowledge that the pace of reforming public consciousness and social and cultural evolution has been far slower here than in South Korea. The majority of Taiwanese don't want change and only hope to maintain the status quo. If we are content with just the status quo, there is no reason to envy South Korea already having far outrun us in the competition between nations to gain real strength.