News / Asia

South Korea's Park Seeks Economic Change, Dialogue With North

South Korea's new president, Park Geun-Hye, arrives for an official dinner at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Feb. 25, 2013.
South Korea's new president, Park Geun-Hye, arrives for an official dinner at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Feb. 25, 2013.
South Korea's new conservative president, Park Geun-hye, has used her inaugural address to send a mixed message to Pyongyang about her approach to dealing with long-running tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Speaking at the National Assembly in Seoul Monday, she demanded that the North "abandon" a nuclear weapons program that included a third nuclear test earlier this month.  Park warned that she will "not tolerate any action" that threatens the lives and security of her people.

But Park also promised to "build trust" between the two Koreas as part of what she called a "step-by-step" approach on the basis of "credible deterrence." She was elected in December partly on a pledge to renew engagement with the North after the tough stance of her conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.

Interpreting Park's message

Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Park is likely to focus her initial efforts on working with the international community to impose sanctions on Pyongyang for its February 12 nuclear test.

The United States and its allies have called for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would tighten penalties already faced by North Korea for conducting nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Park Geun-hye:

  • Born in 1952, daughter of former president Park Chung-hee
  • Studied engineering
  • Served as de-facto first lady after her mother was killed
  • Elected to the National Assembly in 1998
  • First launched presidential bid in 2007
But, Seoul National University professor Jang Yong-Seok said Park also is sending a signal to Pyongyang that a path for dialogue is open, provided that it refrains from further perceived provocations.

Korea analyst Malcolm Cook of Australia's Flinders University said the new South Korean leader is seeking a balanced approach.

"She clearly is trying to find a middle way between [former liberal president] Roh Moo-hyun's 'Sunshine Policy' that focused on engagement with North Korea, and her ruling party predecessor who switched to a strong focus on the North Korean military threat," he said.

"Park will try to do both at the same time, with actions by North Korea determining which of those tracks will be the primary one," said Cook.

Yoon Yeon-hong, a woman in her mid-50s who attended the inauguration, expressed hope that the new president will follow such a path.

"We should help the North Korean people, but I don't want President Park to send [humanitarian] aid unconditionally as some former (South Korean) presidents did," she said. "I also hope she will block anything that would help North Korea to make nuclear weapons."

Establishing economic priorities
 
In another part of her address, Park said her government will develop a "creative economy" in which science and technology generate new markets and jobs, rather than just the country's traditional manufacturing sector.

She also emphasized a need for "economic democratization," or policies that help small and medium-sized businesses to "prosper" alongside South Korea's conglomerates, or chaebols.

Cook of Flinders University said the South Korean economy already is moving in the "creative" direction that Park seeks. He said the president may find it tougher, though, to get chaebols to stop what she called "unfair practices" and "misguided habits" that frustrate their smaller competitors.

"Every president of South Korea in the democratic era has made same claim. Chaebols are family-run and extremely powerful actors in the economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of total production.  Previous presidents haven't been very successful at reducing their clout, and I think President Park will find it difficult to be any different."

Hongik University student Choi Jee-hee, who also witnessed the speech, said she hopes the new government will establish a more generous welfare state.

"I came here to see the inauguration and am hoping President Park will keep promises that she made to South Korean citizens," Choi said. "As I am a university student, I want to see her cut high tuition fees and create more jobs."

Park told the crowd that she supports a "tailored welfare" system that "frees citizens from anxieties, allows them to maximize their potential... and contributes to the nation's development."

Gender gap

As South Korea's first elected female leader, Park also has raised hopes among South Korean women for an easing of social inequalities with men, whose salaries tend to be much higher.

Cook said the president's gender, though, was not a major factor in her rise to power. He said Park owes more to her status as the daughter of assassinated president Park Chung-hee, who ruled harshly as a dictator for 18 years, but also lifted South Korea out of poverty in the 1960s and 70s.

"Like many pervious female leaders in Asia, Park's family name and the role her father played in South Korea's economic development certainly favored her more than her gender," he said.

VOA's Korean Service and Victor Beattie in Washington contributed to this report.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs