New South Korean Leader Warns North Against Nuclear Pursuits

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SEOUL, South Korea -- The country's new president, Park Geun-hye, was sworn into office on Monday, facing far more complicated fissures both within South Korea and with North Korea than her father did during his Cold War dictatorship, which ended with his assassination 33 years ago.

Ms. Park, 61, is the first child of a former president to take power here, as well as the first woman, a remarkable turn for a country where Parliament, the cabinet and corporate board rooms are predominantly male and the gender income gap is the widest among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In her address, Ms. Park called for the revival of an economic boom her father, Park Chung-hee, had once overseen and urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

After the ceremony, in front of the National Assembly, her motorcade moved through a downtown Seoul packed with well-wishers. Her return to the presidential Blue House, her childhood home, was a triumphant moment for her and old South Koreans loyal to her father. His quashing of dissent and censorship of the press in his 18-years of iron-fisted rulewere much maligned among South Koreans during the country's struggle for democracy.

She was elected Dec. 19, thanks largely to the support of South Koreans in their 50s and older who grew disenchanted with fractured politics and recalled how, South Korea under the dictatorship had begun its evolution from a country where per-capita income was just $100 a year into what is now a global economic powerhouse whose smartphones, cars and ships are exported around the world.

But while her father, Ms. Park begins a single, five-year term facing sharp criticism from younger and liberal South Koreans who have no fear of speaking out. When she named Queen Elizabeth I of Britain as her role model, they filled blogswith derision for her sense of entitlement. They openly called her election a return to the past, arguing that the seeds of some of the country's biggest problems, such as the unruly influence of family controlled conglomerates, were sown under her father and accused her of glorifying his rule.

South Korea's political rivalries are freewheeling, evidenced most recently by the arrest of a 76-year-old Christian pastor last week who claimed that Ms. Park had sex with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during her visit to Pyongyang in 2002. His videotaped allegations were circulated widely through the Internet.

Meanwhile, two weeks before Ms. Park's inauguration, North Korea detonated an underground nuclear device, testing her campaign promise to reach out to the North to help end five years of diplomatic silence and high tension on the divided Korean Peninsula under her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, a fellow conservative.

In her inaugural address, "North Korea's recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself."

Speaking before a large crowd that was entertained by the rapper Psy of "Gangnam Style" fame on the lawn in front of the National Assembly, she urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay, "instead of wasting its resources on nuclear and missile development and continuing to turn its back to the world in self-imposed isolation."

Ms. Park invoked her father's era, calling for a "second miracle on the Han River." The first was the transformation under him of Seoul, the capital city, which straddles the river, from the rubble of the 1950-53 Korean War into an industrialized metropolis. He nurtured a handful of family controlled companies, such as Samsung and Hyundai, as engines of an export-driven economy. These companies have grown into globally recognized conglomerates.

Now, decades later, his daughter vowed to bring South Korea's slowing economy "rejuvenation" and "revival," terms favored under her father. But she nodded to the biggest complaints of ordinary South Koreans -- widening economic inequality and the conglomerates' overpowering expansion at the cost of smaller businesses -- grievances, saying the second Han River miracle should be based on "economic democratization."

Ms. Park promised to end unfair practices by big businesses and strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises so that "such businesses can prosper alongside large companies."

Ms. Park's father was assassinated by his own disgruntled spy chief in October 1979 and her mother by a pro-North Korean gunman four years earlier. In this slight, unmarried woman, South Koreans found the enormously appealing image of a loyal daughter focused on rebuilding her family's reputation. She bears a remarkable resemblance to her father and echoes his themes, including her tireless references to "national defense."

"She was born to be a conservative and security-minded," said Jo Dong-ho, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, who cited a well-known episode about Ms. Park. "As a young woman, when she first heard of her father's assassination, she did not cry or ask how he died, but rather the first thing she did was to ask whether everything was all right along the border with North Korea."

Her presidency adds a family rivalry into relations between the two Koreas. Under her father, a staunchly anti-Communist conservative mainstream took root in South Korea. The current North Korean leader is Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the North Korean founder, who sent 31 commandos in 1968 in a failed attempt to attack the Blue House and kill Ms. Park's father.

The young North Korean leader's quest is to recover some of the leverage North Korea had lost to the economically prosperous South by arming itself with nuclear weapons.

A week before Ms. Park's December election, North Korea launched a satellite into orbit. The launching and its Feb. 12 nuclear test heightened fears in the region that years of efforts by Washington and its allies to rein in the North's nuclear ambitions have failed, and that it was getting closer to mastering the technology for building nuclear-tipped long-range missiles.

"By timing his nuclear test before her inauguration, Kim Jong-un consolidated his bargaining position and is challenging Park Geun-hye to deal with it," said Bong Young-shik, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. "What first move she makes on North Korea is important because it could help set the pace and tone of the policies of other regional powers who have all gone leadership changes recently. Everyone is watching her, including North Korea."

During her campaign, Ms. Park positioned herself halfway between the two extreme views in South Korea, promising a strong defense posture and retaliation against North Korean provocations but also calling for dialogue and easing animosity built up under Mr. Lee.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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