South Korea's presidential frontrunner warned yesterday that a "critically transformative" period awaited the Korean peninsula and northeast Asia, marked by political flux and potential instability.
Pitching herself as a leader steeled by personal tragedy, Park Geun-Hye, daughter of assassinated military dictator Park Chung-Hee, said the country's new president would face unprecedented challenges.
She cited a new and still largely unknown leader in Pyongyang and territorial disputes fuelling wider regional tensions, notably in China, as key issues.
The situation on the Korean peninsula is "in flux as never before", while conflicts and tensions in Northeast Asia are "on the rise unlike [in] any other previous period", Park said. "I stand before you as a captain on a ship who is trying to steer her boat in the midst of history's cascading waters."
Candidate of the ruling conservative New Frontier Party, 60-year-old Park is bidding to become the country's first woman president in the December 19 election.
With polls suggesting Park would easily win a three-way race, her two left-leaning rivals on Tuesday merged their campaigns and will now field a single candidate to fight her for the presidential Blue House.
On North Korea, Park promised to pursue a dual policy of greater engagement and "robust deterrence", and reiterated her willingness to hold a summit with its young leader Kim Jong-Un.
Although it "remains unclear just what policies the new Korean leadership will adopt", Park said she would resume the humanitarian aid suspended by current President Lee Myung-Bak.
Park also warned of a dangerous "Asian paradox" where a desire for development and co-operation contends with escalating tensions over security issues, especially territorial disputes.
China, Japan and South Korea are locked in bitter sovereignty rows over isolated island chains.
"The next several years are likely to be critically transformative in shaping the future of the Korean peninsula," Park said.