Hours after she became president-elect of South Korea, Park Geun-Hye made it clear she would make no concessions on national security while pursuing greater engagement with a belligerent and emboldened North Korea.
She may be the first woman to lead the nation, but she is determined that she will tackle her northern neighbours head on.
The paranoid leadership of Pyongyang last week wound up tensions on the peninsula by launching a satellite into orbit. That the satellite is little more than a silent piece of space junk matters not — the fact that it has the technological capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile is worrisome — this from a regime that fails to adequately feed its malnourished masses.
“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.
All parties with any interest in the region should take note. Between the election of Shinzo Abe as Japan’s Prime Minister and Park’s election to Seoul’s presidential palace, stability and peaceful cooperation in the nations surround the South and East China Seas are becoming less likely. And this at a time when greater cooperation is needed.
Park comes with the pedigree of being the daughter of former military ruler Park Chung-Hee — a deeply divisive figure in modern Korean history. He staunchly stood up to the reclusive neo-Stalinist state across the Demilitarised Zone but also set the conditions in place for South Korea to emerge as an industrial and economic powerhouse.
It was his leadership that allowed the likes of Hyundai and Samsung to create industrial and technological complexes that have fuelled Seoul’s national growth over the past two decades.
Continued economic expansion and unfettered capitalism in the South are proven ways of bringing a quicker end to poverty and repression in peoples who live on empty stomachs and empty words.