A day after her narrow victory in Wednesday’s Presidential race, South Korean President-Elect Park Geun-hye revealed her security policy toward North Korea in her address to the nation.
"I will open up a new era of the Korean Peninsula through strong national security and trust-based diplomacy," Park, 60, said at a press conference on Thursday.
Park, the daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, will be sworn into office as the nation’s first female president in late February. She is a member of the conservative ruling party that has scrapped humanitarian and economic aid to North Korea during the past five years, and has overseen some of the deadliest cross border clashes in decades. Last week, tensions rose further following Pyongyang’s successful launch of a satellite-carrying rocket into space.
A tense start: North Korea's recent rocket launch
Strong but not stand-offish
“North Korea only understands strength,” says Jasper Kim, who heads the Asia Pacific Global Research Group in Seoul. “She’ll have to show strength and once North Korea receives that message she’ll have higher bargaining power to deal with North Korea as at least an equal.”
Kim does not think that President-Elect Park will continue the standoffish policy toward the North that has characterized outgoing President Lee Myung-bak’s term in office. Instead, Kim sees a partial return to the engagement strategy adopted by Lee’s two liberal predecessors, known as the Sunshine Policy.
Park has indicated that she wants to improve relations with Pyongyang and that could include the resumption of financial assistance. But Kim notes that Park might not have the entire nation’s support.
Hunger has always accompanied the North's sabre-rattling
Division and distrust
“People in their 20s and 30s will say it's worth giving some sort of economic assistance to North Korea. But if you ask people in their 40s or beyond, you’ll get a very different answer to the same question,” Kim says.
North Korea policy is not the only issue that is dividing the South Korean public. Park took home only 51.6% of the vote, compared to her rival from the progressive party, Moon Jae-in, who claimed 47.9%. Many South Korean voters, in particular young women, distrust Park due to her father’s iron-fisted legacy.
The gender issue
That’s according to Park Hee-jung, editor-in-chief of Il Dan, an online human rights journal. She says that Park’s gender has done little to soften her image as the daughter of the former strongman. Park says that South Korean women do not see Park as a feminist leader.
“Since Park Geun-hye has been in politics, she has never worked on any legislation to advance women’s causes in South Korea. Many women are asking if Park is sincere about ending gender disparities in South Korea,” says Park.
Downplaying her gender might have been a strategic decision, says analyst Jasper Kim. That’s because Park needed the vote of the mostly male conservative block to win the election. “Now that she has the office secured, she can make more of an issue of gender equality,” says Kim.
Park is not a feminist leader in the eyes of South Korean women
Closing the gaps
Park’s first step in closing all of South Korea’s gaps, will be to make good on campaign pledges to expand social welfare programs and reboot the sluggish economy. "I will try to share the fruits of economic growth together without anyone being sidelined," the President-Elect said. "Doing that is the way to genuine national unity, economic democratization and national happiness."