South Korea: Heart And Seoul

2002

Garry Woodard

Sport, politics, and indeed economics mix everywhere, not just in Australia. In late June, the fate of the region in the World Cup rested on one of its smallest countries, but one with the heart of a lion, as Australian soccer and hockey players know well. Asian pride in the first of its own to reach the soccer semifinal is but one of the things about South Korea’s stunning success.

Another is that it happened at home, in the first World Cup to be staged in Asia. It provided the crowd involvement that is essential for big sporting occasions. Getting there has been a wonderful fillip for South Koreans everywhere, not least in Australian cities.

South Koreans have experienced more than they deserve of slings and arrows. After centuries of bitter experiences, the fledgling democracy was one of the hardest hit by the Asian financial meltdown in 1997. But South Koreans showed the same qualities and patriotism and discipline their football team has just displayed. The Republic swallowed most of the International Monetary Fund’s medicine. Citizens donated their jewellery to the state and upped their long working hours to help their country become the first to pull out of the crisis.

President Kim Dae-jung’s efforts at crisis alleviation through national reconciliation were dealt a body blow when President Bush included North Korea in his ‘axis of evil’ statement. Kim’s ‘sunshine policy’ may not survive the end of his Presidency in February 2003. The Korean peninsula would then revert to being a nuclear flashpoint. Democracy could be destabilised.

Former President Kim Young-sam has recently revealed that he opposed the United States’ assertion of its right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea in 1994. There would be intense controversy in Northeast Asia if the hyperpower decided on a pre-emptive strike now or in the near future.

Just as the Chinese hope the Beijing Olympic Games portend a brighter future for them, South Koreans will be looking to soccer’s boost to their national pride to strengthen prospects for a peaceful environment and a democratic future. They have particular reason to give a positive spin to George Orwell's definition of sport as ‘war minus the shooting’.

WATCHPOINT: The repercussions of an unravelling of Kim’s ‘sunshine policy’ would be felt throughout the region.

 

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