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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora