Published : 2013-08-23 20:13
Updated : 2013-08-23 20:13
Six months have passed since President Park Geun-hye was sworn in as the nation’s first female chief executive on Feb. 25. Six months is not a short time for Park ― it accounts for a 10th of her five-year term.
Yet it is still too early to evaluate her performance, especially on the economic front, as many of her key policies still wait to be put in place. In the fields of diplomacy and national security, however, she has already cut a brilliant figure.
Park’s approval ratings are currently above 60 percent. She owes the high ratings mostly to her success in resetting relations with North Korea.
Just two weeks before her inauguration, Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test. It put Park’s North Korea policy, dubbed trustpolitik, to the test by unilaterally withdrawing its 54,000 workers from the Gaeseong industrial complex in April.
Undaunted by the North’s provocation, Park pulled out South Korean company officials from Gaeseong. Then she pressured the North to take measures to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident or face the permanent closure of the factory park.
Park’s stern attitude worked. Pyongyang gave in and agreed to reopen the complex under the terms put forward by Seoul. Park’s ability to turn the tables on a regime known for brinkmanship and recalcitrance earned her plaudits as a tough leader.
Park also achieved a resounding success on the diplomatic front. She put the Seoul-Washington alliance on solid ground through a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in May.
The next month, she visited China and captured the hearts and minds of the Chinese people through a carefully orchestrated charm offensive.
Notably, she won Chinese leaders’ endorsement of her unification policy, which is viewed as China’s acceptance of a peaceful, Seoul-led unification of the Korean Peninsula.
Domestically, however, Park’s performance was lackluster. She spent the past six months trying to put in place a framework for running state affairs. She now needs to start to deliver on her promises.
In the first place, she needs to put the economy back on a growth path. Thanks to the stimulus packages implemented in the first half of the year, GDP grew 1.1 percent in the second quarter, the first time in nine quarters that the growth rate exceeded 1 percent on a quarterly basis.
Yet the recovery is still very fragile. Corporations are still reluctant to invest due to growing global uncertainties. Without brisk corporate investment, the government won’t be able to attain its job creation goal.
Sluggish corporate spending was behind a staggering 10 trillion won shortfall in tax revenue in the first six months of the year from a year ago. It raised doubts about the government’s ability to finance Park’s 135-trillion won welfare programs.
The top priority for Park is to induce the private sector to make investments as planned. For this, she needs to make sure that the National Assembly passes a set of bills drawn up to revitalize the economy without further delay.
However, an early passage of these bills requires cooperation from the main opposition Democratic Party, which is why she needs to reset relations with the party just as she did with North Korea.