Sunday, March 28, 2004

Unstable Democracies and Regional Disputes in Asia

Taiwan and Korea are both mired in instability in their politics at present. China is following events closely after Chen Shui-Bian was wounded in an apparent assassination attempt. US congratulations to Taiwan also left the Chinese piqued.

Of course, Korea never likes to feel left out of the spotlight. Koreans have been diligently striving to prove that when it comes to political unrest not to mention frequency, size and fun to be had a protest they are without peer. The Constitutional crisis has left Roh without a job for the moment and democracy in disarray in the nation. The shallow power politics and petty squabbling in the National Assembly though somewhat entertaining is more than just an embarrasment to the nation, it elucidates with striking clarity the need for more attention to be paid to strengthening the institutionalisation of political bodies, not least of which is political parties.

The rapid rise of sympathy for Roh and the Uri party has backfired against the GNP which was hoping to oust Roh and maintain their strangle hold over the legislation. We have to wait for April elections to know if the sentiments of the protesting citizens will translate into a reduction in the GNP in the National Assembly. The irony that the hapless Roh whose track record on the economy had seen his popularity plummet from election highs has now gotten a much needed boost thanks to the opposition.

Looking regionally, Japan and China have had a tussle over the island dispute. It seems the matter is clearing up and the document-free Chinese being sent to Shanghai. Further to Japan and China, Japan will pay compensation to wartime labourers, setting a precedent for similar cases for Koreans and more. How much a difference compensation will do to long held animosity against the Japanese is hard to say.

And just a final note. The KDI recently held a conference on "Reforming the Public Expenditure Management System: Medium-term Expenditure Framework, Performance Management and Fiscal Transparency" including delegates from World Bank. Some readers may recall I got to work at the World Bank in January this year during which time I helped out with one of the papers that were presented at the conference. That link is in Korean but the PDF papers it links to are in English.

Often from the reading the papers it seems that all civil servants and Koreans, especially after the scenes of the National Assembly, are not a very mature bunch and are more concerned in their own power grap than forwarding the interests of Korea but that is an incomplete picture. The work that gets done behind the scenes such as this conference and others are signs that many are working very hard to make things better in Korea; to improve systems, transparency, governance, and economic management to bring Korea up in world standards.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui