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[Newsmaker] Security, prosperity key to happiness: Park

President Park Geun-hye meets Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)
President Park Geun-hye meets Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)
National security, public safety and economic prosperity will be central to President Park Geun-hye’s plans for “opening a new era of hope.”

In her inauguration speech, Korea’s first female president presented “economic revival,” “happiness of the people” and “flourishing culture” as key themes for her five-year term.

Regarding her plans for the economy, Park did not stray far from past statements stressing the importance of creating a science and technology-based “creative economy,” the efforts for which will be led by the newly established Ministry of Future Planning and Science.

On the issue of “happiness of the people,” however, Park focused more on education and national and public security, than welfare as she had done during last year’s presidential campaign.

The president touched on the subject of welfare saying only that she would enable the people to work “to the fullest of their abilities, and contribute to national advancement through the new welfare paradigm.”

Since winning the Dec. 19 election, Park has scaled down some of the welfare programs including the cash subsidy for those aged 65 and over amid budgetary concerns. Park has also backtracked on the program initially designed to cover both medical and non-medical expenses for patients suffering from one of four major diseases.

A significant proportion of the inauguration speech was dedicated to public and national security, which Park emphasized as being fundamental requirements for happiness.

Park used her first public speech as president to reiterate her stance on North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Despite the international community’s warnings and sanctions, Pyongyang has refused to abandon its nuclear program and conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

Park’s statement on Monday also backed up her view that peace achieved by “one-sided giving” was not a true peace.

During a presidential candidate debate on Dec. 4, Park stated that the country must differentiate between true and false peace, and that maintaining amiable relations through unquestioned material support was not true peace.

“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,” Park said. She went on to urge North Korea to conform to the international community’s demands and to become “a responsible member of the international community instead of wasting its resources on nuclear and missile development.”

“I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North.”

While Park did not rule out inter-Korean dialogue, she appears likely to take a hard-line stance against Pyongyang without positive developments such as abandoning the nuclear program.

“Trust can be built through dialogue and by honoring promises that have already been made. It is my hope that North Korea will abide by international norms and make the right choice so that the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula can move forward,” she said.

Based on the inauguration speech, Park also appears to be envisioning a larger role for South Korea on the international stage.

Expanding on the idea of “era of happiness” for the first time, she said that her vision includes playing a role for South Korea in bringing happiness to the globe.

While security and economy have been central to her agenda right from the start, Park brought in culture as a new tool for achieving the “era of new hope.”

Saying that “culture is power,” Park said that her administration would support creative activities across a wide range of genres and nurture the “content industry which merges culture with advanced technology” as an engine for her creative economy model.

Political and government transparency were not central to the speech, unlike during the election campaign, but Park did hint at the intention to roll out measures aimed at regaining the public’s trust.

“The success of our journey hinges on mutual confidence and trust between the government and the people, and their ability to move forward in partnership,” Park said.

“I will earn the trust of the people by ensuring that our government remains clean, transparent and competent. I will endeavor to shed popular distrust of government and strive to elevate the capital of trust.”

However, as the Cabinet continues to be filled by Lee Myung-bak administration officials, the new president’s plans will likely progress on rickety wheels for the time being.

As Park’s plans for reorganizing administrative bodies to suit her policy objectives remain to be approved by the National Assembly, the parliamentary confirmation hearings for a number of key posts have yet to be scheduled.

Although the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party have significantly narrowed their differences, the parties remain at loggerheads over the issue of which government body will be put in charge of matters regarding broadcast media.

The Saenuri Party had been calling for all broadcast-related matters to be placed under the Ministry of Future Planning and Science, while the DUP has maintained that the Korea Communications Commission is most suited to maintaining impartiality.

With the DUP rejecting the ruling party’s compromise of placing only non-news broadcast-related matters under the Science Ministry, it remains unclear when the proposed revisions to the Government Organization Act will be processed by the National Assembly.

In addition to difficulties presented by government reorganization, a number of ministerial nominees have come under intense fire from the opposition parties.

Led by the DUP, the opposition parties have raised numerous allegations against a number of nominees including Minister of National Defense nominee Kim Byung-kwan and Justice Minister nominee Hwang Kyo-ahn.

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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