Ms. Park Geun Hye, South Korea’s first female president, has taken the reins of a country beset by difficult problems — both domestic and international. South Korea faces a growing disparity between rich and poor, a low birthrate and a graying population — all byproducts of its rapid economic growth. Meanwhile, its neighbor, North Korea, carried out its third nuclear test Feb. 12, ratcheting up its security challenge. We hope that Ms. Park can use her ingenuity to help South Korea to overcome its domestic and foreign policy challenges.
Ms. Park is keenly aware of the importance of fairly distributing the fruits of economic growth. In her inauguration speech on Monday she said: “No matter how much the country advances, such gains would be meaningless if the lives of the people remained insecure. A genuine era of happiness is only possible when we aren’t clouded by the uncertainties of aging and when bearing and raising children is truly considered a blessing.” Her words could also apply to Japan. Politicians here as well should tackle these issues in earnest.
It is noteworthy that Ms. Park appears ready to deal with the problems caused by the domination of the chaebol or family-run conglomerates. She said, “By rooting out various unfair practices and rectifying the misguided habits of the past that have frustrated small business owners and small and medium-sized enterprises, we will provide active support to ensure that everyone can live up to their fullest potential, regardless of where they work or what they do for a living.”
Ms. Park’s stress on “economic democratization” and “fair market” underline a departure from the policy line of her predecessor, Mr. Lee Myung Bak, although both belong to the conservative Saenuri Party.
Ms. Park’s father, Park Chung Hee, took power in 1961 through a military coup and during his 18 year rule oversaw an economic boom known as the “Miracle on the Han River” (the river runs through Seoul). Ms. Park has pledged to embark on a “Second Miracle on the Han River,” based on “the convergence of science and technology with industry (and) the fusion of culture with industry” and with the aim to “bring happiness to the people.”
On the foreign policy front, Ms. Park called on North Korea to “abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay,” saying that “there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself.” It is hoped that she will flesh out a “trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula” that will ultimately convince the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program and end its international isolation.
In a Monday meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Ms. Park said that “historical perception” is important in advancing the ties between South Korea and Japan. Japanese politicians should strive to understand South Korean sentiment toward Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. And politicians in both countries should refrain from stirring up national sentiment in dealing with bilateral issues. June 22, 2015, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Japan-South Korea basic treaty, which normalized diplomatic ties. Both countries should strive to improve bilateral relations so this anniversary can be commemorated in a cordial environment.