Park Geun-hye Takes the Reins (Page 3 of 3)

An equally daunting array of challenges awaits the new president in the domestic arena.  Fundamental social or economic change is not likely to be in the cards for South Korea during the next five years. But citizens made clear their desire to see significant reforms during the campaign when the term “economic democratization” was bandied about by candidates and the media. Koreans want their country’s economic growth to continue but they also want to see the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed and the power of the chaebol — large, family-controlled multinational conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai that dominate the economy— curtailed so that small businesses have a chance to thrive.

Dealing with the chaebol presents a particularly thorny problem.  Progressive economic reformers may resent their dominance but the South Korean economy remains dependent on their success. The largest conglomerates account for more than half of South Korea’s GNP. At the same time, Park has greater credibility with the chaebol’s owners than almost any other South Korean politician. It was, after all, her father, Park Chung Hee, who nurtured the chaebol with preferential loans during the 1960s and 1970s, helping to build them up from very modest enterprises to the multinational corporations that are known throughout the world today. Their owners could almost be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when Madame Park captured the presidency in December; she had, from the outset, proposed far more modest reforms to their structure than her opponent.  

Ultimately, Park is unlikely to force the chaebol through any significant restructuring but she does have enough authority and goodwill in the corporate sector to curb their abuses and level the playing field for smaller businesses. Even if this does not amount to the giant leap forward that progressive economic reformers would like to see, it could still be an important stride that starts the reform process without jeopardizing growth.                

Perhaps the biggest question mark is how Park will handle the issue of gender inequality.  Despite becoming the first country in Northeast Asia to elect a female head of state, South Korea is notorious for its inegalitarian work culture. Women are routinely pressured to quit their jobs when they have children and female talent is under-rewarded in large Korean companies. Park promoted herself as “a prepared woman president” during the campaign but she cannot claim a strong track record on gender issues during her tenure in the National Assembly. Many have expressed skepticism that she will do very much to empower women.

But the chances that Park will make at least some progress on the issue are probably greater than her critics believe. Her victory is, at a minimum, a symbolic breakthrough in a country where women face obvious discrimination. Even if Park’s political lineage sheltered her from many of the hardships routinely encountered by most women seeking to advance their careers, it did not protect her from being asked unusual or irrelevant questions because of her gender during the campaign. Unmarried at age 60 in a country where most women wed during their twenties, she was once asked if she had ever been in love.

Regardless of her unremarkable record on gender equality, Park may yet prove more attuned to the issue than her predecessors. She cannot change all of the subtle discriminatory practices that prevail in South Korean companies overnight, but progress can be made if Park fulfills her campaign pledge to create incentives for firms to hire women.  

Enhancing the wealth and security of South Korea’s 50 million citizens during the next five years will be no easy task. The new president will need to act swiftly and decisively on a broad spectrum of issues, combining skilled diplomacy and solid economic management with a genuine concern for social welfare. Only if Park can manage this with the same competence and flair that has marked her career as a politician will she be able to completely step out of her father’s shadow and prove that she is the right person for the job.      

Gregg Brazinsky is an Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

Comments
10
Kim's Uncle
March 1, 2013 at 06:51

A strong unified Korea under Seoul would be Chinese commies worse nightmare. No wonder they want to keep North Korea stunted and backwards. China has always been the main troublemaker in Asia. The dirty commie dictatorship in Beijing was the only power to armed the homicidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge! Chinese commies unmasked themselves as people with no scruples whatsoever!

[...] Read the full article here [...]

TV Monitor
February 26, 2013 at 01:24

Israel is urging the US to strike at North Korean nuclear facilities now in order to prevent NK nuclear technology from flowing into Iran.

The election of hardliners in ROK has made that process a lot easier.

Bankotsu
February 25, 2013 at 14:12

"It’s time to unchain North Korea servitude towards China."

China can't even stop North Korea's nuclear tests. What servitude are you talking about? You should be talking about South Korea, Japan and U.S.

[...] optimistic, Park must do a lot to make this rhetoric a reality. Actually I don’t know what “spiritual ethos” is or how it [...]

Kim's Uncle
February 25, 2013 at 06:21

It’s time to unchain North Korea servitude towards China. If North Korea is freed and reunified with the dynamic south Beijing will be sweating bullets!

PeterDownUnder
February 24, 2013 at 22:48

As long as North Korea exists, South Korea cannot afford to become liberal or left leaning. Look at what happened within South Vietnam before the war and the scandals of Taiwanese generals retiring in the PRC.

When Germany reunited there were over 40,000 East German spies operating in the West. There are many seeds of social upheaval within South Korea sowed by North Korean spies as well as collaborators.

Already in South Korea they have allowed North Juche praising politicians into the senate, they who refuse to sing the South Korean anthem and refuse to denounce anything related to North Korea.

A recent scandal in SK was when one of these famous North loving politicans who once visited the North in her youth to denounce the South and hug Kim Il Sung got in a drunken tirade against a North Korean refugee turned activist. She denounced him as a traitor to the cause. Who's cause?

If for example China had been split evenly with Southern China ie Guangdong having become a democratic capitalist state in contrast to the communist, they would also be having a similar situation as with the Koreans.

Conveniently Oversight Re The US Elephant In The Room
February 24, 2013 at 16:23

"On the other, Japan and South Korea are both important allies of the United States that share a common set of democratic values. They are also both wary of China’s ambitions to assert itself as a regional power"

Really?  What do you think is the US doing exactly this moment?  It is not only piling pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to "kow-tow" to Washington wishes, or it will ensure  that ruling S Korean and Japanese politicians will be deposed and never re-elected again.  That is how assertive Imperial Washington is.  And all you propagandists can only focus on Beijing, conveniently forgetting the elephant in the room which is imperial Washington.

Bankotsu
February 24, 2013 at 15:25

If what you say is true, no wonder North Korea tested the bomb. Abe of Japan is also playing the hardline card. U.S is pivoting to asia pacific, they will fish in the troubled waters there to look for cards to use against China. 

There will be more trouble ahead. Hope that Israel will instigate some wars to distract the U.S and force them to re-pivot back to the middle east and away from China.

TV Monitor
February 24, 2013 at 12:48

The author doesn't seem to understand that Park is the most authoritarian politician in 25 years, since the last dictator president in 1988. When the conservative politicians meet the outgoing president Lee Myung Bak, they bow 10 degree and then shake hands. When the same politicians meet Park, the bow down 90 degree. People are wondering why this is, but the leading theory is that these politicians are seeing the ghost of her dictator father in her.

Not only that, the people who are being recruited in her administration are retired army generals who call for a hardline policy toward China and North Korea. The very fact that her secret service chief is an army general instead of a traditional high-ranking police officer is the proof of this, since the last time an army general held that post was during the military dictator era .Military dictator presidents only thrusted his subordinates on the roles of secret service and national intelligence service and this is why army generals held those posts.

What you are looking at is another 5 years of hardline policies in diplomacy and national defense by ex-generals surrounding Park, and Park herself was known for being uncompromising.

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