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May 29, 2017

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Incisive, comprehensive vision needed for reforms

A nation-defining moment was what President Park Geun-hye called the Sewol ferry tragedy in which three hundred died. In the aftermath of the disaster, the president disbanded the coast guard, blaming that organ of government for failing to respond to the crisis properly.

"It's the duty of the living to make reform and a great transformation for the country so that the sacrifices of the dead are not wasted. If we cannot reform ourselves in a situation like this, we will become a nation that will never be able to achieve reform," Park was quoted by the NY Times as saying.

Park's decision has yet to be evaluated in terms of its efficacy. Splitting the functions of the coast guard between a newly created agency and the police may hamper their ability to provide reliable services. She has also been criticized for attempting to shift the blame to that arm of government instead of shouldering it herself.

But what the president of South Korea is doing is setting the tone for soul-searching as well as identifying the moment for reforms to salvage the nation's character. By contrast, President Ma and his government's response to problems seem to be overly focused on assuaging public opinion and lack a determination to solve entangled root causes.

The government needs to comprehensively address the accompanying aspects of each problem from the vantage point of determination and incisiveness, coupled with compromise but not vacillation. Determination is needed to solve problems in the face of inevitable differences in opinion. Incisiveness refers to an ability to identify the complexities of a problem as well as to design a solution. When a superior decision is available between on-or-off choices, it should be courageously adopted.

All this requires expert understanding of the subject, to defend one's position and dispel misconceptions. Where the trade-offs are known, achieving a balance between conflicting priorities is also a difficult but needed task.

Mothballing the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and leaving it to future generations to decide is an example of not confronting the basic problem behind the controversy, which is the country's long-term energy policy. While the consensus is to move beyond nuclear power, mothballing betrays a lack of conviction in moving toward that stated goal.

An accompanying issue immediately surfaces when, by not activating the fourth nuclear plant, the scheduled decommissioning of the first, second and third reactors may have to be postponed. The Atomic Energy Council said in April that "extending the service terms" of those reactors "may be a feasible option." This contradicts the head of state's declaration in a press release called "Consistently Reducing Nuclear Reliance and Marching toward a 'Nuclear-free Homeland'" in 2011. In the release, Ma said that when the service terms for the three older reactors expire, they will not be extended.

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