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  • South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye: 4 Factors

    December 20th, 2012  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    1. Foreign Affairs Policies and Impact:
     
    President Park Geun-hye’s first post-election policy speech this morning focused on North Korea. In effect, her North Korean policy will be one of “semi-Sunshine Policy,” or put another way, “Sunshine Policy lite.” That is, her administration will not completely shun the North, nor will it completely try to embrace the North. Rather, Park’s policy will be one of moderation, most likely with a moderate left pivot. The spirit of such policy will be economic aid and other incentives in a “something for something” quid pro quo manner, rather than “something for nothing” transactions in the form of purely ceremonial and costly summit meetings. The Park administration believes the Sunshine Policy was relatively ineffective in bringing about sustainable positive results, especially in light of the need to boost South Korea’s own economy and people in a post-subprime crisis recovery period.
     
    2. Economic Policies and Impact:
     
    President Park Geun-hye’s economic policies will focus on widening the country’s “social safety net” while rolling out policies related to “economic democratization.” Regarding the social safety net issue, this will include such policy platforms as increasing job security, expanding affordable housing options, boosting job security (especially for non-permanent contract employees), and debt forgiveness. Regarding economic democratization issues, this will include working “with” (rather than against) the nation’s large family-owned conglomerates–known as “chaebol”–relating to cross-share holdings and forging greater cooperation with SMEs. Thus, shareholders of such firms as Samsung, LG, SK, and Hyundai, should be relatively relieved with Park’s election, rather than Moon’s, given the more friendly (or at the very least, relatively less hostile) policy stance towards the chaebol.
     
    At the same time, Park Geun-hye understands that the Korean economy is in essence a “one pillar” economy that is highly (some would say, overly-) dependent on exports. In total, 48% of South Korea’s GDP depends on its exports (compared to 28% and 18% for China and Japan, respectively). The proffered policy solution is the fostering of a second economic pillar in the form of a “creative economy”–basically the nation’s IT and biotech industries–that may better cater to South Korea’s innate competitive advantages in such areas. This will also help create jobs and boost productivity and production by SMEs, which account for up to 94% of South Korea’s total labor force (compared to just 6% by the largest chaebol).
     
    3. The Female Factor:
     
    Will Park’s gender as South Korea’s first female president play a key role? The answer is yes and no. Yes, in terms of creating a demonstration effect for half of the nation’s population. This is especially notable given that South Korea has one of the lowest female workforce participation rates among OECD member countries. In essence, although many Korean women begin to work in their 20s, a disproportionately large number of women drop out of the workforce, many due to societal pressure to get married and raise, not just bear, children, to get the family’s children into “top schools” (stemming in part from traditional Confucian/Korean values and norms). This links to many other related issues, such as the lack of day care facilities and hyper competition within the country’s educational landscape (highly dependent on attending private learning institutes outside of normal school hours).
     
    No, in the sense that president-elect Park never made her gender–being a woman–a primary campaign issue. In part, this is due to the fact that Park could not have brought the “female factor” issue to the forefront since most of her suppot base comes from “conservative” voters, e.g., older Korean males. Thus, South Korea is entering into a “post-patriarchal” political era, in which one’s gender to assume the highest office in the land–the presidency and the Blue House–does not have to be linked to gender, similar to what was seen with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher (who was cited as a benchmark by candidate Park) and current German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
     
    4. Challenges:
     
    Park won the presidency by a relatively small margin of approximately 51% to 48%. This is in contrast to the previous presidential cycle, in which the presidency was secured by a 20+% margin of victory by Lee Myung-bak. Thus, the challenge going forward will be: how to garner the support of the Korean public when just as many voters were with you as against you? Many skeptics must also be convinced that Park Geun-hye will be different enough from her father, former president Park Chung-hee, which has been a constant looming issue not just throughout Park as a political candidate, but throughout her life before seeking public office. If Park can prove to be an acute listener, who can then integrate the interests of both her supporters and non-supporters alike, her initial honeymoon period in the Blue House stands a reasonable chance of relative success.
      
    For an interview clip with National Public Radio (NPR) on president-elect Park Geun-hye’s formative years, featuring Jasper Kim of Asia-Pacific Global Research Group, click HERE


    For a Bloomberg news article relating to Park and chaebols, quoting Jasper Kim, click HERE.

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    For a Bloomberg TV interview clip by Jasper Kim, click HERE OR VIEW BELOW.
     

     
    For an Al-Jazeera English TV interview clip, CLICK HERE OR VIEW BELOW. 

      
    For an interview clip as part of a larger CNBC TV segment aired today, see below (clip begins from about the 1 minute mark):
      

          

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