Last March 10, 2017, former President of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Park Geun-hye became the first democratically-elected president in the country to be removed in office after a constitutional court upheld her impeachment amid charges of extortion, bribery, abuse of power, and leaking government secrets. The decision essentially nullifies the executive immunity that Park enjoyed as president, which means that prosecutors can summon, question, and possibly arrest her.
As per the constitution of ROK, the country has 60 days to elect a new leader after the impeachment. The change in leadership, however, has various implications on the foreign relations of the country most especially with China, United States of America, and North Korea.
Multiple personalities charged
The political drama in Park’s impeachment involve her relationship with a friend and informal adviser, Choi Soon-sil, who was accused of abuse of power and attempted fraud amid claims she had access to government secrets and intervention in state affairs. Park’s relationship with Choi has long been controversial in ROK.
Choi was mainly accused of using her presidential connections to pressure companies such as Samsung to donate millions of dollars to in donations to two non-profit organizations she manages. According to prosecution documents submitted to the court, Park was also allegedly involved in the donations by instructing Choi and two presidential aides to collect money for Choi’s foundations.
Meanwhile, several executives from Samsung are currently on trial for a series of corruption charges including bribery and embezzlement. Among one of the allegations against Samsung’s executives include approving payments of 41 billion won to Choi’s foundations, to which the executives denied. Last December 2016, however, the executives admitted to giving 20.4 billion won to two foundations, but denied seeking favors.
Complications with foreign relations
One such uncertainty that arises in line with Park’s impeachment is that for the past decade, conservative rule has dominated the country. The ousting of Park, a conservative leader, may give rise to the installation of a liberal leader amidst “increasing tension on the Korean peninsula and on the wider Asia-Pacific region.”
In the past, Park had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington to denounce North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Today, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, who is keen on engaging into talks with North Korea. The opposition has also re-examined the country’s joint strategy with the United States in terms of relations with North. Moreover, they aim to defuse tensions with China amid the former initiatives of Park to deploy a US missile defense system, to which the Chinese government is against.
South Korean opinion polls show that a “favorite successor” to Park would be Moon Jae-in, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea who lost the 2012 elections to Park. In contrast to Park’s hard line strategy against North Korea, Moon vows to reconsider the plans of Park to deploy the US missile defense system.
Meanwhile, China’s official Xinhua news agency asserted that the deployment of the missile defense system was “very likely to usher in an ice age” for economic ties between China and South Korea. Xinhua also pushes Park’s successor to rethink the country’s strategy on North Korea.
DLSU Korean students’ insights
For Bob Kim (III, BSE-ENG), Park was simply not fit for the position. “Former President Park was not stupid; rather, she was just not president material and did not have an idea about managing a whole nation,” he explains.
In addition to this, he highlights that Park’s actions while in power were unacceptable. Other students have shared the same sentiments. Martin Kim (III, BS-MGT) says, “Upon her administration, there were many incidences where she has shown deficiency of leadership and skills to lead the country. Moreover, she has used her position to gain advantages which is perfectly against the spirit of democracy.”
President Park has been accused by the students of using the presidency to serve her personal benefit, and being apathetic regarding tragic issues such as the Sewol Ferry incident. “[S]he is responsible for what happened in the ship sinking accident. If only she made an action, many could have been saved and maybe no one could have had even died,” asserts Han Yuri* (III, BS-BIO).
Despite the current political instability, the DLSU South Koreans remain hopeful for a better leader. “We absolutely feel anxiety. However, we Koreans count this as one opportunity since we believe that our politics and society will be better and clearer due to this case,” Yuna Noh (II, BEED-ECED) affirms.
Shin Eun Jin (IV, BS-IBS) adds, “The date for a new election has already been set, and I do really hope whoever is elected next may prove that our political system is not failing, yet.”
Meanwhile, some DLSU Korean students also highlight that the Philippines may learn valuable lessons from this development. James* (II, BS-MGT) discloses, “Our President resigned just from simple allegations and claims of corruptions. In the Philippines, corruption isn’t even a rumor or alleged anymore. Majority of your members in government have been proven guilty with corruption and yet nothing happens.”
He adds, “You can tell your country isn’t [going to] improve when you [hear] your fellow Filipinos [wanting to] move and work abroad just so you can escape the hardships of the Philippines. Why don’t you stay and improve it for future generations?”
Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms