SEOUL — South Korea holds a hotly-contested election December 19 to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak. He is limited to a single five-year term under South Korea's constitution. Park Geun-hye, the front-runner from the governing party, spoke to correspondents in Seoul Thursday for the first time during her current run.
Saying the situation on the Korean peninsula is in an unprecedented state of flux, Park is portraying herself as the best candidate to lead during this critical time.
Addressing correspondents in Seoul, the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party presidential candidate noted tensions in Northeast Asia are on the rise, unlike in any previous period.
“If it helps in moving forward South-North relations, I am willing to meet with the new North Korean leader," Park said. "But, importantly, I will not seek a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. Rather, such a summit must involve an honest dialogue on issues of mutual concern.”
She also vowed to resume humanitarian aid to the impoverished North. The assistance was suspended when the current president took office in 2008.
Park added that a nuclearized North Korea is unacceptable. Pyongyang has carried out two nuclear tests and is under international sanctions for such activities.
The current leader in the North, Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his late 20's, took control following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, last December.
The two Koreas fought a bitter three-year civil war in the early 1950's and there has never been a peace treaty.
Park is the daughter of a former president, who was assassinated by his own intelligence chief in 1989. The legacy of Park Chung-hee remains controversial. Regarded as a dictator, he is also credited for launching the country's era of industrialization and unprecedented economic growth.
At the age of 22, Park herself became the country's first lady after her mother was gunned down in 1974 by a North Korean sympathizer.
A five-term national lawmaker, she narrowly was defeated five years ago in a presidential primary race.
This time Park faces two liberal candidates who, this week, agreed to unify their campaigns. But it remains unclear which one will yield to the other.
Most opinion polls show Park the clear winner in a three-way race. But surveys show Park facing a stiff challenge or losing if either Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party or entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent, drops out to support the other.