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Park moves to resume state affairs, despite probe and rally

President Park Geun-hye on Friday signaled at resuming state operations, which have been stalled for weeks due to the influence-peddling scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

The feud-ridden state chief’s attempt to regain political control came amid growing public outcry over her delay of prosecutorial questioning and ahead of yet another massive candlelight rally slated for Saturday.

Park might attend an upcoming summit with her Chinese and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo next month, in a move that seems to confirm she is trying to resume state affairs.

“Details are yet to be finalized, but I understand that (Park) will attend (the summit) once the schedule is fixed,” presidential spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk told reporters.

This was a rare confirmation of the president’s official schedule, considering the Blue House’s common practice of replying vaguely when asked about Park’s next moves or plans to reinstate state affairs.

It also reiterated Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se’s statement made the previous day.

“(South Korea) will suffer losses, if it misses (the summit) for domestic reasons, especially since it was Japan that had set the date,” the minister said.

The trilateral meeting, which kicked off in 2008, was once halted after a historical dispute which heated up the 2012 meeting in Beijing. Last year, the three Northeast Asian states gathered in Seoul to resume talks for the first time in three years.

Park’s move to join this trilateral summit was a contrast to her nonparticipation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit to be held in Peru this weekend. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is to attend the event as the presidential representative.

The official reason behind the prime minister’s participation, according to the government, was that the state chief could not afford an overseas trip amid the escalating nuclear threats from North Korea and that the decision had been made in September -- before the Choi scandal broke out.

It had therefore been speculated that Park would refrain from other external activities as well, including the Korea-China-Japan summit.

Her approval ratings, which has remained in the record-low 5 percent range, further added credence to the speculation that the president would not show up at international occasions to meet with key counterparts.

According to local pollster Gallup Korea on Friday, Park’s rating remains unchanged at 5 percent, with the disapproval rating standing at 90 percent.

Despite the low ratings, she has apparently shifted her stance from passive to slowly gearing up to resume state affairs.

In line with this move, Park also conferred certificates of appointment to new members of the secretariat and letters of credence to foreign ambassadors in the afternoon.

Among the participants were the Presidential Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok and Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Chong-ghee. The latter was tapped for the post Wednesday, amid the heightening tension over the prosecution’s pledge to question Park over her alleged connection to the Choi scandal.

The afternoon’s event was the state chief’s first public appearance in front of the camera since her summit with Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev last Thursday.

It was also her first official schedule since the record-breaking protest in central Seoul last Saturday, an occasion said to have gathered more than 1 million participants.

One key point of concern is whether Park will chair a regular Cabinet meeting next Tuesday, in which case her political reinstatement signal would be finalized.

Since Park’s last attendance on Oct. 11, the Cabinet meeting has so far been led by Prime Minister Hwang who, due to the APEC summit, will only return late on Tuesday evening.

“Nothing has been decided yet and I will let you know, should there be any schedule (of Park’s chairing the Cabinet meeting),” the spokesperson told reporters, refraining from confirmation yet leaving room for the possibility.

If Park indeed chairs the meeting, her keynote address is likely to be taken as an effective address to the nation, following her two earlier public apologies over the state scandal.

As for the reasons why the embattled president is seemingly taking the bull by the horns, despite the sluggish polls and growing pressure, political observers highlighted her reliance upon hidden strongholds, referred to as the “shy Park” group.

There have been ongoing speculations that even amid the lowest-ever approving ratings Park may have unseen supporters who may eventually step out. This was reflected in remarks by Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, chief of the ruling Saenuri Party and a leading pro-president figure.

“The ratings may be reeling under the current circumstances but may possibly recover, depending on the president’s efforts,” Lee said.

By Bae Hyun-jung / (