South Korea has marked a first in its history: Park Geun-hye, the daughter of late military strongman, Park Chung-hee, who ruled in the 1960s and 1970s, has become the first female president of the country. Sworn-in yesterday, Park is set to face major challenges, both domestically and internationally. The most obvious foreign policy challenge is how to deal with North Korea. Park has already said she will not tolerate provocation from the North, which conducted its third nuclear test two weeks ago. “North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people,” she said, calling on the regime in Pyongyang to “abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay”. The past five years have seen ties between the two nations worsen under her predecessor and fellow conservative Lee Myung-bak. She should actively work towards normalisation of relations as well as promoting direct nuclear talks between North Korea and the global community. Another pressing foreign policy task is resolving the ongoing islands dispute with Japan, which has threatened to destabilise the Asia-Pacific region.
Her main domestic challenge will be to improve South Korea’s economy. She has already promised sweeping reforms aimed at bridging the growing income gap and creating jobs. The country’s economy was unsurprisingly affected by the global downturn and Park has already promised to build a new “creative economy” that will move South Korea beyond its traditional manufacturing base. Major tasks indeed — and the world will be watching.