South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, was sworn in Monday, pledging to secure South Korea against the threat of an increasingly hostile North Korea at the same time as mending bridges with Pyongyang.
President Park, daughter of a former ruler and a conservative, was voted in on a wave of frustration following five-years of the outgoing Lee Myung-bak government that saw a widening of economic inequality, curtails to freedom of speech across South Korea, and two nuclear tests by North Korea.
As Ms. Park’s government begins to take shape, many are wondering if she will follow through on her pledge to oversee a substantial departure from the policies of the Lee government of which Park herself has been highly critical.
She visited the North Korean capital in 2002 and met with its late leader Kim Jong Il. Since then, his son Kim Jong Un has taken over in Pyongyang, continuing a policy of defiant work on the country’s budding nuclear program, including a test earlier this month that drew widespread international condemnation.
“Precisely because trust is at a low point these days South Korea has a chance to rebuild it,” Park told Foreign Affairs magazine before she won the election. “In order to transform the Korean Peninsula from a zone of conflict into a zone of trust, South Korea has to adopt a policy of ‘trust-politik,’ establishing mutually binding expectations based on global norms.”
“North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself,” she said. “I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development.”
Reiterating her policy of ‘trust-politik’ – a policy based on deterrence combined with cautious approaches to North Korea – she said she intended to “lay the groundwork for an era of harmonious unification where all Koreans can lead more prosperous and freer lives and where their dreams can come true.”
“I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North.”
“The members she chose [for her incoming cabinet] are reliable and have experience in government administration,” says Bong Young-shik, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank in Seoul. “They are familiar figures,” he says.
During her campaign, Park, the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee, made promises of job creation and expanded welfare in an effort to address these issues. She is already being accused of backpedaling, having removed all references to “economic democratization” – her umbrella term – in a list of five major goals her administration submitted last week to the public.
South Koreans will be looking for progress on her campaign promises soon, with the hope that Park will follow through on pledges she made while seeking the presidency. “In order to gain the trust of [the] young generation, she should keep the promises she made during the presidential campaign,” says Mr. Bong.