Prize-winner's plight

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2000, 12:00am

It's a hard fact of public life that politicians are often more honoured abroad than in their own countries. Such is the case with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung who has just collected this year's Nobel peace prize. To the rest of the world, he is an Asian Mandela, a statesman of courage and integrity who has tried to lead his people to a new era of peace.

His own people, however, are increasingly disenchanted with him, and with the steps he has taken to reduce tensions with North Korea. Politicians and the media have grumbled that he should be spending more time solving South Korea's domestic problems. A party in his ruling coalition had even urged him not to go to Oslo to collect his peace prize, even though he is the first Korean ever to win a Nobel prize. The main opposition Grand National Party has accused Mr Kim of selling out to North Korea.

It is heartening to note that the South Korean President has not allowed this carping domestic criticism to deflect him from his lifelong ambition to heal the divisions between North and South Korea and to spread democracy in Asia. 'I shall give the rest of my life to human rights and peace in my country and in the world, and to the reconciliation and co-operation of my people,' he declared at the prize-giving ceremony.

Kim Dae-jung has two more years before his term as President ends. It is important for Korea and the region that his domestic difficulties do not divert him from his cautious moves towards reconciliation with the North. The President has been blamed for not doing enough to implement economic reforms. These reforms will inevitably lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses, as well as political discontent. Hopefully, the international recognition that the Nobel prize has brought will give him the political leeway to continue his sunshine policy towards the North. Leaders within and outside the region should also give him the backing he needs to counter his domestic critics.