Korea’s disappointment with neighboring powers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was exuberantly applauded during his address to the joint session of Congress on April 29. In his speech, Abe apologized for the American lives lost during World War II by offering his “profound respect and (his) eternal condolences.” However, no apology was acknowledged for the Korean “comfort women,” a euphemism for the women forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Five American congressmen (four Democrats, one Republican) advised Abe to offer apologies regarding the “comfort women” issue, but five out of 535 had very limited influence. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only remarked that there was a pitiable “regret for a lack of genuine apology” in response.

A day before at the U.S.-Japan summit, President Obama promised to give his active support for Japan to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, a position Japan has long sought. Permanent members are the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China, who each have the veto power on globally critical issues of conflict and peacekeeping.

The U.N. sent 83,000 peacekeeping troops to 15 regions last year alone, costing $7.54 billion to maintain. In principle, the permanent members that have the right to veto exclusively share this cost, but Japan and Germany have also been participating in this burden. Among the nations, the U.S. pays the largest share at 28.38 percent, Japan 10.83 percent, France 7.22 percent, Germany 7.14 percent, U.K. 6.68 percent, China 6.64 percent, and Russia 3.15 percent. The U.S. and Japan’s combined sum is close to 40 percent of the share. Therefore, it is likely that Japan finds itself justified in becoming a permanent member, and Germany may also follow suit to be considered for a seat at the table.

During my tenure as a representative in the U.S. Congress, I supported a bill to dissolve the U.N. as did tens of other congressmen. On the surface, the growing budget waste that came with the increasing size of the organization and the U.S. taking 30 percent of the burden were the reasons provided as rationale, but Russia and China’s abuse of the veto power was a main reason behind it. This bill, however, failed to pass. Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran through nuclear negotiations despite opposition from strong U.S. allies Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are likely gestures to offset China’s growing influence.

Recently, China led the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to have its headquarters in Beijing, and 57 countries have joined thus far. Once the U.K. joined on the basis of furthering its national interest, Germany, France, Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and most of the other European countries followed. Many countries have now joined, with the exception of the U.S., Canada and Japan. In such a procession, Obama strongly felt the need to counter-balance China’s rapidly rising power through forming a tight security partnership. Abe, in his address to the joint session of Congress, emphasized and signaled that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), in which Japan has been partnering the U.S., would act as a mechanism against the China-led AIIB.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, amicably extended an invitation to Abe, asking Japan to join the AIIB during the China-Japan bilateral summit in Indonesia last month. Xi Jinping chose practical benefits over moral justification in his approach to Japan, because it is imperative to have the Asian economic powerhouse as a member of the AIIB. Japan is likely to join the AIIB soon. Korea seems to be left behind while our neighbors are busy seeking and acting to protect their nations’ interests.

Korean-Americans demonstrated in front of the U.S. capital to demand that Abe apologize. In Los Angeles, a few hundred people also protested in front of the hotel where Abe was staying. The protesters mobilized to keep the dignity of their home country. Back in Korea, however, it happened to be Labor Day, and a mass of demonstrators clashed with police, creating much chaos.

Korea is currently confronted with a major crisis as Korea is being left behind in the international community, but we are busy fighting each other demanding more and more from the government. I am again reminded of President Kennedy’s famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Institutions and national traits

History has proven repeatedly that democratic political institutions where citizens elect government officials to represent themselves and the economy and is run on free market principles is the most successful political institution. Although democracy is not without error, many scholars agree that no other political institution is superior.

The world was astounded when the U.S. Constitution was enacted in Philadelphia on Sep. 17, 1787. Until then, monarchies ruled most countries in the world, and ultimate power in those countries resided with the King. Life and death was at the King’s mercy, and every property– from land down to birds in the sky–was considered the King’s property. The U.S., however, shook the world when the young state’s Constitution mandated to have its citizens elect the President every four years, created a legislative body where representatives were elected in proportion to the population. It also established a Supreme Court where judges decided punitive actions.

The democratic political system, which was adopted through great pain, came to have numerous problems with the passing of time–the most significant being the gap between the poor and the rich. Despite the emphasis on human equality, human capability is not equal, thus creating benefits for the wealthy while equal opportunities deteriorated, even below the conditions under the old monarchy. Against the ills of such conditions, socialism and communism sprung up to promote equality for all citizens. However, these political institutions are now extinct with North Korea existing as their remnant; but as we all know, North Korea is neither a socialist nor a communist state, but simply a poverty-stricken nation with hereditary rule passed on from father to son.

On the other hand, the U.S. has established itself as a firm democracy solidified through years of lawmaking that led to the creation and modification of national traits. Under the principle that everyone is equal under the eyes of the law, those who committed crimes were strictly punished regardless of their background, creating a hard-core legal society with little room for emotion. However, it would have been difficult to maintain order in such a large nation if the U.S. did not adhere firmly to its legal system. American society is an amalgamation of diverse races and ethnic backgrounds that requires strict enforcement of legal institutions to keep society in order.

Recently, a series of police incidents occurred when African-Americans were killed in the United States. Republicans sided with the police, emphasizing legal order and demanding punishment for those who broke the law. Democrats have long argued for rehabilitation of criminals to re-educate them so they can adjust back into society, and spent millions of dollars on crime prevention. Republicans, on the other hand, advocated increases in the number of police and penitentiary facilities, and spent millions penalizing criminals. Republicans went further in arguing for the death penalty and attempted to ratify bills that limited appeals from criminals on death row.

Korea, on the contrary, has developed into a legal society with a unique tradition where “bad” laws can be overlooked with an understanding that even laws have tears and sympathy. Such tradition has allowed the society to become abusive and lawless at times, allowing some absurd incidents to occur: police battery by citizens, too many cases of citizens’ demands for the democratically elected President’s resignation, and vandalism in the National Assembly.

I don’t oppose Korea’s tearful and sympathetic interpretation of the law. Furthermore, I don’t consider it entirely negative to be thoughtful and considerate toward unique individual circumstances surrounding criminal activity. However, I cannot tolerate the taking of the streets for violent demonstrations without following the legal procedure to voice citizen opinion. Such actions can only be seen as illegal activities that violate the democratic principle that acknowledges people are at the heart of a nation.

Singaporean dream

Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore who recently passed away, turned the poor island nation into an economic powerhouse of Asia. He was a democratic dictator who chose pragmatism over ideology.

Lee knew exactly what citizens needed and desired, including “home ownership, a good job, and a good education” among other factors. Although some criticized Lee as a dictator, he implemented unrestricted freedom in the industry sector to attract foreign investment and replaced inheritance tax with a 17 percent corporate tax.

Moreover, he adopted English as the official language over Chinese, despite opposition from the Chinese residents that make up more than 75 percent of the Singaporean population. Convinced that Singapore needed to connect with the world to move out of poverty, Lee Kuan Yew pushed to have Chinese Singaporeans learn English at the expense of giving up the Chinese language. This was the Singaporean dream of this now wealthy nation.

In the United States, thousands of people leave their home country and land on U.S. soil daily in search of the “American Dream.” The “American Dream” according to immigrants, is the opportunity the country provides to earn money to buy a house, a car and provide education for their children through their sweat alone, without the need for connections or an educational background. The fact that Bill Gates was able to become the world’s wealthiest man after making a humble start in his own garage, and a black man was able to become the president of the U.S. is a testimony to the opportunities American society nurtures.

Former U.S. congressmen Democrat James Traficant and Republican Randy Cunningham, who were seated in Congress during my time there, were sentenced to eight years in prison for past monetary misconduct. Even to my eyes, their sentence was harsh for their crimes, but it is customary in the U.S. to enforce harsher punishment to those in higher positions than ordinary citizens to serve as an example. The two men were eventually removed from their offices, their pensions were terminated, and they lost eligibility to ever run for election again. It is such strict application of the judicial system that keeps American society running smoothly, an immense melting pot of many races, ethnic groups and religions.

Singapore is stricter than the U.S. in enforcing punitive action against crimes. Lashes are enforced for spitting chewing gum on the streets, and the death penalty is handed down for possessing even a very small amount of drugs. Singapore has been subject to criticism for its rigid control of basic citizens’ rights and suppressing the freedom of the press to facilitate its undeterred drive for economic growth. However, widespread popular support of Lee Kuan Yew, who led the impoverished port city of Singapore from $400 GDP per capita to $56,000 GDP per capita in half a century, serves as evidence that economic well-being is the most basic right for human beings.

The rigid penal system and judicial corporal punishment in Singapore has played a significant role in allowing the nation to enjoy a very low crime rate. Currently 33 countries adopt corporal punishment rather than monetary fines as part of their penal system, since it has been proven to be more effective for alcohol-induced violence, sexual harassment, pickpocketing, fraud and other petty crimes.

A well-known American criminologist, Peter Moskos, published a study that shows the effectiveness of corporal punishment over the prison system. He concludes that flogging would be more efficient for the United States, which gives five times more prison sentences than the world average. Moskos argues that when given a choice of between one year of prison or two lashes in the presence of a doctor, most will choose the lashes. The logic behind his argument is to enforce shock therapy through rough corporal punishment, as a few years in prison often fails to rehabilitate criminals and doesn’t ensure society will pardon those needing punishment.

Now that Singapore is economically stable, Singaporeans are no longer satisfied with being Asia’s richest nation, built through 20 years of Lee Kuan Yew followed by 10 more with his son as the prime minister. They are now disillusioned, especially due to the increasing gap between the rich and poor.

I am reminded of a saying from a certain philosopher: “Dictatorship is the ideal form of government, but only when the dictator is God.” As history proves so far, democracy, where power is vested in the people, is the best choice.