A new, historical chapter began in South Korea on Monday, with the inauguration of Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president.
Reiterating her policy of ‘trustpolitik’ – 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”. She pledged to secure South Korea against the threat of an increasingly hostile North, while at the same time continuing attempts to mend bridges with Pyongyang.
“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,” Park said. “I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development.”
“I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North.”
With her election win last December, Park broke barriers in the patriarchal East Asian nation, though she is deeply connected to South Korea’s political past. Her father, Park Chung-hee, was one of the founders of modern Korea, who rose to power after a coup d’etat, and ruled for 18 years before being shot dead by his intelligence chief in 1979
His memory still divides South Korea — some regard him as the cornerstone of South Korea’s present prosperity, others see him as a dictator who crushed dissenters and ignored human rights.
While Park Geun-hye has apologized for the human rights violations during her father’s rule, she continues to be criticized for not doing enough to distance herself from his legacy.
Despite any objections to her and her father’s past Park was able to elevate to the presidency with 52% of the vote.
Park, 61, and her opponent, the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in, offered similarly moderate plans during the campaign, addressing income inequality, reining in the power of family-owned conglomerates and improving relations with North Korea.
On future relations with North Korea, Park offered a softer approach that distinguished herself from former President Lee Myung-bak, who demanded an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program as a condition of economic aid.
She visited the North Korean capital in 2002 and met with its late leader Kim Jong Il. With the rise of his son Kim Jong Un, North Korea has continued its 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 ‘trustpolitik,’ establishing mutually binding expectations based on global norms.”
In a speech at the headquarters of her Saenuri political party Thursday morning, she invoked a phrase coined by her father, who also served as president in an era when he was encouraging people to pull South Korea out of poverty.
“I would like to re-create the miracle of ‘let’s live well’ so people can worry less about their livelihood and young people can happily go to work,” Park said.