Reunification is getting closer

The reunification of the two Koreas is no longer a goal that we can only dream about, but is becoming closer and closer to reality. The reason for this is that China and Russia, the traditional allies of North Korea, have been showing signs of turning their backs on the North.

China, a country that holds the key to the survival of North Korea, stopped its oil exports to the North last month over the course of a few days. Though one cannot be sure if China will continue to do so, it is well-known that China actively agreed to the resolution issued early this month by the U.N. Security Council to sanction North Korea. Before China, Russia has already taken a critical stance on the nuclear tests and other provocations of North Korea. In addition to this, the U.S. House may block cash flows from other countries to North Korea, through blocking Banco Delta Asia, in order to paralyze its finances. Thus, it is no exaggeration that the whole world is turning its back on the country.

One reason is that North Korea has been obsessed with the expansion of its nuclear weapons program while its people are starving to death. But the bigger reason is North Korea’s severe oppression of its people and its violation of their human rights. The international community had a certain degree of hope for Kim Jong-un, a new leader in his 20s with a foreign education. But this hope quickly evaporated, and now the international community is disgusted with a series of threats from Kim and his leadership that are even worse than any of his father’s actions. Meanwhile, in the U.S., some are beginning to claim that reunification on the Korean Peninsula is the fastest way to get rid of the nuclear threats from North Korea.

In the last South Korean presidential election, the voter turnout was 75.8 percent of eligible voters, which left the American voter turnout of just over 60 percent of eligible voters in the shade. Furthermore, the voting process was an orderly, democratic process without any incidents or errors. It also deserves to be noticed that South Korea elected a female president before either Japan or the U.S. did. In the international community, the overwhelming opinion is that putting North Korea in the hands of South Korea is the only way to save North Koreans from starving to death. This means reunification.

George Friedman, an American military political expert, expects there will be reunification on the Korean Peninsula in as early as 10 years. According to him, there will be difficulties in several areas, including the economy and politics, during the first decade after reunification, but the unified Korea will overcome such difficulties through a combination of the natural resources and cheap labor of the North and the technology, capital, and brain power of the South.

He advises that it is better for South Korea to strengthen its relations with the U.S. even more than its current levels, because it will need help from the U.S. during the period after reunification. After all, the U.S. will be the country that will welcome the reunification most, while Japan will accept it bitterly even though it will not oppose the reunification because of the U.S. I think that, with so many domestic issues at hand, China will also have a hard time finding a reason to oppose reunification, as it has begun to lose control over the North.

After reunification, Korea will become a powerful nation and extend its power to Manchuria. I wonder what will be the fate of Manchuria. For no obvious reason, I am hopeful that China will allow Manchuria to be developed by the unified Korea, so that it will rule over the land as it did in the era of Goguryeo. Korea will become a technological center of a significant scale, and China will long for the advanced technology of Korea to overcome its crisis. The U.S. will also depend on Korea to find a balance between China and Japan, and thus Korea will rise as the strongest ally to the U.S. Russia will also lean toward Korea because of its territorial dispute with Japan. One most certainly cannot exclude the possibility that, against the U.S. policy that emphasizes Asia, Russia will build another Moscow in Vladivostok and will have Korea develop the vast region.

Therefore, we have to get out of a narrow perspective and prepare for reunification step by step, considering the limitless opportunities that will come soon. It is time for us to reassure China. We absolutely need policy and diplomacy to strengthen our relations with the country, guarantee compensations for its investments in North Korea, and promise a partnership for growth. The whole world looks upon the Republic of Korea for its brilliant economic growth in a short period. Meanwhile, the isolation of North Korea is deepening in the international community. Hence, instead of leaving the North as it is, we should start preparing an active plan for reunification.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at


Paralyzed government: lessons from US case

It can be said that the biggest difference in the parliamentary systems of Korea and the United States is the difference in the operational relations between the majority and the minority parties. In Korea, the majority or ruling party is the president’s party, regardless of the number of seats the party has in the National Assembly. In the U.S., however, the party that has a majority in Congress is the majority party, which has nothing to do with the party affiliation of the president.

Though President Obama is a Democrat, the Republican Party is the majority party in the House of Representatives because the party has a majority there. In the U.S. Congress, the chairperson of every committee and subcommittee comes from the majority party, and chairmanships are not shared with the minority party. Unlike the National Assembly of Korea, the majority party occupies every committee chair position, since the people sent to the party through election the message that it should take responsibility as the majority and lead Congress.

If Obama were a Republican, every bill would pass smoothly in Congress. However, because they belong to different parties, there are naturally frictions between the president and the House of Representatives. In particular, a clash between the president and the House on the federal budget is unavoidable; hence, there have not been many cases where the budget was passed before the deadline. The annual federal budget covers the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30 next year. If a budget fails to pass in Congress, the government may operate temporarily with the budget for the previous year by passing a “continuing resolution.”

In 1995, the Republican Party held a majority in Congress while Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was president. At the time, I was in my second term as one of the Republican members of the House, and we, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, stopped the budget submitted by Clinton at the time. The Republican Party claimed that the budgets for environmental agencies and welfare programs should be reduced further, while Clinton insisted that no more reduction was possible, since the budgets for such programs had already been cut as much as possible. Against Clinton’s refusal of cuts, Gingrich countered that the House would not increase the debt limit. Due to this conflict between the two parties, part of the federal government (non-essential government services) was shut down at midnight on Nov. 13 as the continuing resolution expired.

This was the notorious 1995 Government Shutdown. Clinton criticized Congress, claiming that the first six days of the 20-day government shutdown cost taxpayers $800 million, and barely managed to pass a budget in January the next year. Surprisingly, however, the public took the president’s side. As a result, despite being marred by sex scandals, he was successfully re-elected by beating a Republican hero, Bob Dole.

Recently in Korea, the National Assembly has been making a political issue out of the new president’s proposal for government reorganization, which aims to revive the economy for ordinary people. If the National Assembly continues to delay the process on the government reorganization bill, people will turn their backs on the National Assembly and move to the president’s side. I hope the members of the National Assembly will remember the 1995 Government Shutdown when the people turned their backs on Congress in the direct clash between Congress and president. Just like that incident, the current vacuum in the government will definitely make people turn their backs on the National Assembly that has been disabling the new president.

In the U.S., it is a common practice for Congress to let a new president, once elected by the people, reorganize the government. Of course, there are cases where, if the proposal for reorganization increases the number of government agencies or expands their budgets, depending on the methods to pay for the additional spending, Congress demands cuts or opposes the proposal. In the current situation, if the opposition party continues to refuse to hold a provisional session, the ruling party should convene one by itself. The damage that the National Assembly causes by disabling the president only goes straight to the people. Therefore, the majority party has no other choice but to push ahead.

The leadership of the ruling party should give its all so that the party can convene a provisional session to pass the reorganization plan and help the president and the government do their work. However, a major problem is that the leadership of the ruling Saenuri Party passed a strange law, the so-called National Assembly Advancement Act, last spring. This law was passed by the Saenuri members of the 18th National Assembly, whose term will end in a few days, and it made 60 percent of votes, instead of a 50 percent majority, the quorum for an important bill. This strange law that one could never find in the U.S. is the reason the ruling Saenuri Party, which has an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, is being dragged around by the opposition party and making things difficult for the new government, rather than helping it.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

Science Minister nominee Kim Jeong-hoon

President Park Geun-hye made a great choice in nominating Kim Jeong-hoon as the minister of future planning and science. This choice reveals her will to build a creative economy by tapping into the global talent pool. Kim is an appropriate pick for the head of the ministry, an agency that will be a driving force to develop the future economy of Korea, based on cutting-edge technology and not on imitation.

Furthermore, Kim is not a politician but a successful entrepreneur and scientist untainted by Korean politics. He is a proud Korean who was born in Korea and emigrated at age 15 to the United States, where he succeeded.

Unfortunately, criticisms against the choice have already come out. One such is that someone who cannot comprehend the Korean language should not become a minister of the Republic of Korea. However “1.5 generation” immigrants who were born in Korea seem to learn the Korean language in a short period of time. For example, Paul Shin, a Washington State senator, was adopted into a U.S. family when he was a child.

He lived in the U.S. for more than 60 years and did not speak Korean at all at first. But after several visits to Korea, he learned Korean in just six months, and now can speak Korean more fluently than me. He has given testimony at various Korean churches in Korea. It must be a latent ability of the “1.5 generation” Korean-Americans for learning Korean. In this time of globalization, where English has become the international language, the concern should not be a minister who is fluent in English while less fluent in Korean, but those ministers who cannot speak English.

There is also no law that prevents a foreigner from becoming a minister of the Korean government. The problem is that appointing a foreigner as a minister will give the person special access to national secrets.

I cannot understand why people still call Kim a foreigner after he acquired Korean citizenship. From what I heard, he will also soon be giving up his U.S. citizenship. This was a difficult decision for him, considering he will have to pay about 100 billion won in taxes by giving up his U.S. citizenship. People should not distort this brave decision that he made for the sole purpose of devoting himself to his native land.

Why would he want to return to become a minister in Korea when he is doing so well in the U.S.? The mind of someone who wants to come back to Korea, the country where he was born and the country of his parents, can never be understood by those who have never experienced success while enduring hardships living abroad for half a century.

There is also a concern that Kim was a member of an advisory board for the CIA. He was not a special agent of the CIA. He was just an external advisor as a successful entrepreneur in the global communication device industry. Furthermore, the U.S. is our strong ally, a country that has shed blood with us in wars. So what is the problem?

I went to the U.S. alone with $200 when I was 24. I struggled through poverty to graduate from college, and entered into the mainstream of U.S. society. I, a strange Asian with a weird English accent, was elected onto the city council of an affluent, predominantly white city, and then became its mayor. I was even elected into the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating 12 white candidates in a district of 700,000 white people. I was a symbol of the American dream.

I am a naturalized American citizen with an English accent, and Kim Jeong-hoon also is a Korean-born citizen who is not good at Korean. Both of us are obviously Korean-Americans who have 100 percent Korean blood. Both of us have suffered racial discrimination at one time or another, but succeeded in the face of such adversity. It is sad to see that he is being discriminated against for wanting to come back and work for his mother country, Korea.

We need to change the way we think of our people living across the world. We should accept and help them as our brothers, bringing excellent people back as ministers if needed. We should treat them kindly when we go abroad, do business with their companies as much as possible, and make them feel that their native country still helps them without forgetting them.

When an election comes, members of the National Assembly frequently visit Koreans living abroad, talking about things like the suffrage of overseas Koreans. But once the election is over, they ignore and never keep even one campaign promise that they made to overseas Koreans. Now is the time to make this bad habit vanish.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

Parliamentary system and economy

Recently, the issue of amending the constitution has been in full discussion in South Korean politics. There are reports that 37 members of the National Assembly have already formed a group to pursue constitutional reforms for the decentralization of power; 14 members of the group belong to the majority Saenuri Party, and 23 of them to the minority Democratic United Party. Their intention to reform the Constitution by working together with the other side in order to improve the lives of people deserves our appreciation.

I do not know the specific content of the constitutional reforms they pursue, but there are two key issues in discussion. One issue is that a parliamentary system like Japan’s should be adopted because the current presidential system has too many problems. The other key issue is whether a term limit structure like the U.S. has, which allows a president two terms of four years, should be implemented. The reform group claims that, lest the reforms should place a burden on the new administration, it is better for the National Assembly to form a special committee for constitutional reforms and finish the reforms in the first half of this year.

However, it is difficult to understand why members of the National Assembly should gather to change the Constitution in such a hurry at this delicate time before the launch of a new administration, especially considering that the economy has gotten bad for ordinary people and there is an urgent national security issue concerning North Korea. I do not believe that people will support politicians putting all their energy into constitutional reform during the first half of this year.

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea is more concrete and substantial in its content than the U.S. Constitution. For example, the Korean Constitution lists the 28 rights of its people in detail in Article II, while the U.S. Constitution contains only 10 basic rights, and only within the amendments to the Constitution, not the main body of the text. The Korean Constitution has been amended nine times over the 65 years since its adoption in 1948. The current constitution is the result of the most recent amendment, ratified in 1987.

Though I respect the drive to amend the Constitution that had been refined over a long period of time, the current process seems to be overly rushed. To amend the Constitution, several public hearings should be held and people’s opinions should be heard as well. An amendment to the Constitution typically takes two years, because they go through this process.

Most worrisome is the proposal to adopt a parliamentary system. Once the president is directly elected by the people after a long and difficult verification process, granting the president a five-year term provides stability. The frequent changes of power in a parliamentary system will make businesses feel uneasy because of unpredictable policies. This lack of continuity will hold back economic development.

Let’s look at our neighbor, Japan. For 66 years since its Constitution was adopted in 1947, the government was dissolved 50 times by a non-confidence vote by the Lower House, and the average term of a prime minister has been just 15 months. The nation has voted practically every year. After the victory of the Liberal Democratic Party in the election held on Dec. 26 last year, a new cabinet was formed with Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Abe had been the prime minister for a year, from September 2006 to September 2007, until his cabinet also was dissolved by the non-confidence vote. He came back after six years, but it remains to be seen how long he will stay this time. In Japanese history, four prime ministers resigned within less than two months due to a non-confidence vote.

According to a recent poll in Japan, only 15 percent of the Japanese people are satisfied with the current parliamentary system. Support for the two major parties, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, are just 12 percent and 18 percent, respectively. An overwhelming number of the Japanese are disillusioned by their parliamentary system and prefer a stable U.S.-style presidential system that keeps a president in the office until the end of a term. Furthermore, it has also been reported that there is a movement by the citizens to get rid of the parliamentary system.

There was a time when a parliamentary system was adopted in Korea. Through the third amendment in 1960, a parliamentary system was adopted only to fail, and the current system of five-year, one-term presidency was adopted through the ninth amendments in 1986.

The U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1787, and its presidential system has been a success for the past 226 years. The overwhelming majority of the American people are satisfied with the current presidential system. During those 226 years, a parliamentary system has never been proposed. In the U.S., a president is guaranteed for the first four years, once elected after a long and difficult test by the people. The American people elected President Obama again, believing his promise that he will revive the economy if they give him four more years. It is not an exaggeration to say that the presidential system made the U.S. the most powerful country in the world, while the parliamentary system is crashing the Japanese economy.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

Obama and unification of Korean Peninsula

Four years ago, Barack Obama’s win in the U.S. presidential election shook the world, and not just because he was the first black president in U.S. history. Obama surprised people by appointing Hillary Clinton, a fierce opponent in the Democratic presidential primaries, as secretary of state, a key position in his administration. What moved people more than anything was Obama’s acceptance speech. Referring to a 106-year-old African-American woman from Georgia, Ann Nixon Cooper, Obama showcased the possibilities of America to the whole world. Pointing out that Cooper “was born just a generation past slavery; a time when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons ― because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin,” he said, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible … tonight is your answer.”

Many people cried along with Oprah Winfrey, a famous talk show host and a black woman, who wept in the front row of the crowd attending the victory speech in Chicago. TV networks proudly broadcast the peaceful celebration of American people welcoming the first black president in U.S. history.

Obama’s re-election chances appeared in jeopardy at one point, as he had no outstanding achievements in his first four years and also because the economy was not doing well. But American people have entrusted him with four more years, granting his appeal for another chance.

The TV ratings for Obama’s second inauguration were much lower than four years ago, and the number of people in the audience did not reach half of the first inauguration. The passion and excitement, however, had not diminished. Obama’s speech with a message of diverse Americans coming together to overcome difficulties was deeply moving. He received passionate applause when he emphasized our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. His appeal for working together for the community and common good was also moving. He received thunderous applause when he emphasized the limitless possibilities of America, mentioning the end of decade-long wars, and that the economy is on its way to a full-scale recovery. He also stressed that the U.S. will try to resolve differences and conflicts with other nations peacefully through engagement, while remaining the anchor of strong alliances.

This foreign policy idea can be seen in Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, as the new secretary of defense. Even though Hagel is a Republican, he has always shown opinions different from the Republican Party on foreign affairs, national security, and defense policies. He opposed the ”surge’’ in Iraq, and he is a moderate who thinks active engagement and negotiation are necessary even with America’s enemies. He had also expressed strong aversion toward Israeli lobbying in U.S. politics.

John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, who was appointed by Obama as Hillary Clinton’s successor for secretary of state, is also well-known for his moderate approach. Kerry is a Vietnam War veteran who ran for president as the Democratic candidate in 2004, losing to George W. Bush. The appointment of Kerry to the position is another great victory for Obama. Kerry is much more experienced in foreign affairs than Hillary was in 2008. He is a foreign affairs expert who has been deeply involved in foreign relations for over 20 years.

Though the next secretary of state and the nominee for the secretary of defense both value engagement and negotiation, it is expected that they will maintain hard-line policies against North Korea. The reason is that the engagement policy with the North Korea is not likely to work because new leader Kim Jong-un is not at all different from his father, Kim Jong-il. Even China (as well as Russia) is very discontented with North Korea for ignoring the resolution of the U.N. Security Council by launching a long-range rocket against strong opposition from the international community. From a South Korean standpoint, this is a great opportunity to persuade the international community that the unification of the two Koreas is the best way to stop the nuclear proliferation of the North.

Just as the election of a black president was a historic event in the U.S., South Korea has elected its first female president. This shows the great progress of democracy in South Korea.

I hope that the new Park Geun-hye administration will lay a path toward the unification of the Korean Peninsula and actively persuade China on this issue. It should point out the benefits of unification for the Chinese economy, and it would also be a good idea to assure the new Chinese government led by Xi Jinping that, if unified, South Korea would take over any outstanding obligations concerning North Korea from China.

Xi clearly expressed China’s position that denuclearization is necessary for the peace and safety of the Korean Peninsula during a meeting with special envoys from President-elect Park. In this context, China supported the Security Council’s resolution to expand and strengthen its sanctions against North Korea. And in this current situation, where the isolation of North Korea is growing deeper, the Park administration should actively try to initiate the unification process on the Korean Peninsula.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

Presidential transition team

When President-elect Park Geun-hye announced her presidential transition team, each member surprised many people. Some were not so well-known or surprise picks that went against people’s expectations. What caught my eye was a critical article pointing out that four of the 24 members were “children of the Yushin regime,” those whose fathers or fathers-in-law were high-ranking officials during that period. Yushin is the period under military control when President Park Chung-hee seized power, who was the father of the President-elect.

One of the transition team members’ fathers served as defense minister under the late President Park. Another members’ father graduated from the Korea Military Academy and was the secretary general of the Korean Red Cross, another was a four-term congressman of the Democratic Republican Party and another was a former congressman of the Grand National Party.

This article reminded me of a female candidate from a minor party and her obnoxious remarks during a presidential debate. She said that the daughter of Park Chung-hee should not become president and that she ran only to prevent Park from winning the election.

After watching people making an issue out of the people’s fathers’ past, not just for a presidential candidate but also for members of her transition team, I cannot help talking about the U.S.

The father of President Obama is from Kenya but I have never heard any derogatory remarks about that fact.

What is wrong with having a father who was the head of a ministry during the Yushin regime? Why should the deceased father of a candidate become an issue? We should get rid of this bad habit. I do not know why we dig up the past like this.

Considering what is happening, Obama would never have become president in Korea. It is time for Koreans to grow up.

There is also a difference between Korea and the U.S. in the formation and the operation of a presidential transition team. In America, presidential candidates select the key members of their transition team in the middle of their campaigns, well before the election is over and the result is announced. In the Obama transition team, Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta, was assigned to the most important position, chairman of the team.

The official transition started on the first day when Obama was declared as the President-elect. The transition team estimated that it would hire 450 people for the process and set a $12 million budget. The government paid $5.2 million and the rest was raised through private donations. The transition team was formed through recommendations from the 12 members of the previously-appointed advisory board.

As the major role of the 12 members of the advisory board was to recommend outside candidates for the Cabinet, none of the members became secretary of a department. Only an extremely small number of them were left as White House staff, which was an exceptionally rare case.

Former President George W. Bush also selected the 14 members of his transition team in mid-October at the height of the presidential race as did Republican candidate Mitt Romney and the team was dismissed after the election, at the end of November.

In Korea, becoming a member of a presidential transition team was regarded as important by itself, since its members have an excellent chance to hold high positions in the newly-formed administration. For the same reason, the members were very arrogant, as if they had already become heads of ministries. As a result, many conflicts and negative side-effects occurred. But this time, it looks different. It seems to have become closer to how things are in the U.S. It set an example to follow for the team to carry out its job as planned despite criticism of “sealed nominations” or “nominations without discussion” by the opposition party.

In the end, a presidential transition team is up to the president-elect, and there are no rules they have to follow. A Korean

president-elect does not have to follow the American example. They should just follow what seems fit in Korea. But in the U.S., no matter who is selected for the transition team, their role is to select nominees for administrative offices and set the framework of the organization. There are almost no cases where a member of a transition team has become the secretary of a department in the U.S. Furthermore, people accept that the selection of the key members of the transition team is up to the president-elect. Hence, it is difficult to find the press arguing over the selection of a presidential transition team in the U.S.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

2013 ― a year of hope

The world was nervously following the political negotiations over the fiscal cliff in the U.S., and it seems that there was a dramatic agreement between the two parties at the very last moment to avoid it. The key issue during the negotiations, the one that caused the most debate, was raising taxes on the rich.

In terms of increasing income tax rates, the Democratic Party proposed that the rate increase should start at $200,000 for an individual, while the Republican Party proposed that the rate increase should start at $1 million. But the two parties finally agreed to raise tax rates on annual incomes that start at $400,000 for an individual ($450,000 for a household). This result might look silly, but it makes an enormous difference in the amount of tax revenue.

As the fiscal cliff was avoided, everything can go back to normal for now. But there still remains the issue of the federal debt ceiling. There is no debt ceiling system in Korea. Its National Assembly passed the 2013 budget on Dec. 31, and now its government can just execute the budget. But in the U.S., since there is a statutory cap on how much the government can borrow and it cannot borrow any more once it reaches the debt limit, unless the Congress raises it. Thus, in the worst case scenario, not raising the debt ceiling can shut down the U.S. government.

The common prediction shared by economists all over the world is that the U.S. economy will get much better, starting this year. The reason is that the U.S. economy is not directly influenced by the European financial crisis, since it does not depend on exports as an economy like China’s does, and also that the U.S. domestic economy will get stronger and create more jobs as housing construction is beginning to rise. Every economist also shares the view that if the U.S. economy rebounds, so does the world economy.

So what kind of outlook does Korea have for this year? After the presidential election in Korea, the foreign press is very optimistic. For starters, Korea has regained political stability. Also, Korea was able to continue its unwavering commitment to national security by maintaining its strong alliance with the U.S. Finally, the nation showed both patriotism and a will to protect democracy through its high turnout of voters.

In 2012, with the world economy suffering, Korea was the only country that received a higher credit rating than before. It was elected as a member of the U.N. Security Council, getting 147 votes at the U.N. General Assembly. K-pop, “Korean wave” dramas, Korean players in various sports, and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” shook the whole world. But the most important thing was that Korea managed to attract the headquarters of the U.N. Green Climate Fund to Songdo, beating out such major countries as Germany, Mexico, Poland, and Switzerland. The Green Climate Fund, which has currently raised $10 billion, plans to raise $100 billion by 2020. Having the headquarters of this program in Songdo is a tremendous achievement for us. Its economic effect on Incheon will be immense: hotels will be needed to accommodate foreign participants of various conventions, big or small, as well as apartments, shops, and cultural facilities for tens of thousands of employees. This was one of the important diplomatic achievements of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Another thing that amazed the foreign press was the high turnout of voters ― 75.8 percent, in Korea’s presidential election. In last year’s U.S. presidential election, the voter turnout was only 57.5 percent. It is difficult to get voter turnout over 60 percent in the U.S. The most important thing was that over 89 percent of people in their 50s came out to vote in Korea. People in that generation were the very people who donated wedding rings and gold watches to the country’s gold supply to overcome the IMF financial crisis 16 years ago.

Now a vibrant new era is coming to South Korea. North Korea is completely isolated after its long-distance rocket launch that violated a U.N. Security Council resolution. The time has come for South Korea to prepare for unification with North Korea through direct bilateral talks. Electing a female president by a country known to be a traditionally male-centric, even before the U.S., Japan, and China, has received a great response from the international community. Now what remains for us to do is to try again to achieve “747” (7 percent economic growth, $40,000 per capita income and becoming a top seven world power). Furthermore, hope for the unification of the two Koreas is beginning to turn to reality.

For Korea, 2013 will be a really blessed year. It will also be the year the U.S. economy slowly rises again. The housing market will regain its vitality in the U.S. and with Obama’s pivot to Asia, the U.S. will move its focus from Europe to this continent. Due to Obama’s policies, the U.S. manufacturing industry will begin to revitalize for the first time in 50 years. It will also be a vibrant year for us, Korean Americans, as we can have closer relations and exchanges with our native land, Korea.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at