Park Geun-hye is the daughter of South Korea's former dictator, the late president Park Chung-hee. On December 19, 2012, Park - a Conservative - narrowly won the election to make history as South Korea's first female president. Born on February 2, 1952, she was the chairwoman of the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) between 2004 and 2006 and between 2011 and 2012 (the GNP changed its name to Saenuri Party in February 2012). Park has already served as South Korea's first lady, after her mother was killed in the 1970s.
South Korea president-elect puts national security first
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Incoming president Park Geun-hye, basking in her election as South Korea’s first female leader, promised on Thursday to stand tough on national security despite seeking engagement with North Korea.
In her first policy address since her historic win on Wednesday, Park stressed the “grave” security threat posed by the North as underscored by last week’s rocket launch.
She also pledged to work for regional stability in Northeast Asia where South Korea, China and Japan are engaged in a series of bitter territorial disputes.
“The launch of North Korea’s long-range missile symbolically showed how grave the security situation facing us is,” Park said.
“I will keep the promise I made to you to open a new era on the Korean peninsula, based on strong security and trust-based diplomacy,” she added.
During her campaign, Park had distanced herself from the hardline policy of outgoing President Lee Myung-bak who suspended major humanitarian aid to the North.
Park had promised a dual policy of greater engagement and “robust deterrence”, and had not ruled out a summit with the North’s young leader Kim Jong-un, who came to power a year ago.
Analysts say she will be restricted by hawks in her ruling conservative New Frontier Party, as well as an international community intent on punishing the North for what it saw as a disguised ballistic missile test.
“Given her basic stance towards Pyongyang and the rocket launch, she is unlikely to be the first mover in improving relations with the North,” said Hong Hyun-Ik of the Sejong Institute think-tank.
“But she won’t object if the second Obama administration moves to engage the North in dialogue after the dust over the rocket launch has settled,” Hong said.
China, North Korea’s only major ally and main economic lifeline, congratulated Park on her election and pushed for an improvement in Seoul’s ties with Pyongyang.
“We hope the North and South of the Korean peninsula can resolve their problems through peaceful means and realise a lasting peace,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Park promised to work on building trust in Northeast Asia but, in an aside clearly aimed at Japan, stressed that stability had to be based on “a correct historical perception”.
Seoul and Tokyo are embroiled in a sovereignty row over a tiny group of South Korea-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan. Japan is mired in a separate but similar dispute with China.
There are concerns in South Korea, where bitter memories linger of Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, about rising nationalism in Japan under incoming prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Park’s election victory over her liberal rival Moon Jae-In, by a margin of 51.6 per cent to 48.0 per cent, reflected the polarised nature of the electorate.
Park is the daughter of the former military ruler Park Chung-hee – a deeply divisive figure in modern Korean history.
His 1961-79 rule was grounded in two objectives – defending the country against the North and economic development. He delivered on both but only through the ruthless suppression of dissent.
Park’s legacy loomed large over his daughter’s campaign and, in an apparent effort at reconciliation, she publicly acknowledged abuses under his regime and apologised to families of the victims.
On Thursday morning she paid her respects at her father’s grave, and also at the grave of one of his bitterest critics and political rivals, former president Kim Dae-jung.
“I will try to break the vicious circle which has caused such extreme division and discord in the last half-century,” she said afterwards.
While North Korea and other regional tensions will top her foreign agenda, Park’s immediate challenge will be to deliver on the domestic issues that dominated the election.
With the global downturn hurting exports, South Korea’s economy is slowing and there are growing concerns over income disparities, job security and welfare funding in one the world’s fastest-ageing societies.
“I will try to share the fruits of economic growth together without anyone being sidelined,” she said Thursday.