Park’s intriguing destinyLooking back on her life, President-elect Park Geun-hye is intricately connected to the numbers nine and 18. When she was nine years old, in 1961, her father pulled of a military coup. She suddenly became the daughter of a strongman. Her life made a dramatic turn onto an extraordinary path from that day on.
For the next 18 years, she led a heavily guarded and veiled life under the protection of the mightiest power in the land. Her life as a president’s daughter and then as acting first lady made an epic drama mixing glory with tragedy. When her father was assassinated in 1979, she was forced out into the real world for the first time in nearly two decades. Coincidentally, she went into a kind of self-imposed exile for 18 years.
So her life can be split into 18 years in power and another 18 out of it. In 1997, she came back to the public stage and joined politics.
Nine years later, her life hit another turning point. In the spring of 2006, Park’s life was in danger after a criminal attacked her with a box cutter when she was head of the ruling Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party). In the fall of that year, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Amid heightened security concerns, she lost the conservative party’s nomination for president to her male rival Lee Myung-bak. If not for the North’s nuclear test, Park may have had a chance to become the 17th Korean president.
But 17 was not her number. Instead, she became the 18th president.
So, what do the two numbers hold for the future?
In 2015, she will commemorate her 18th year in politics and the ninth year since the attack on her. She may face yet another major test in that year. A challenge for the president concerns the country and people. What can happen on the Korean Peninsula during that year?
In 2015, the president will enter her third year in office, past the halfway mark of her five-year term. President Lee Myun-bak also faced major challenges in his third year. In his first year in office, 2008, a South Korean tourist was shot by a North Korean soldier at a resort on Mount Kumgang. The following year, North Korea carried out its second nuclear test. In 2010 - Lee’s third year - North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, and shelled Yeonpyeong Island on the tense maritime border with the North. Relations between the two Koreas hit their lowest ebb since the 1950-53 Korean War and North Korea was further isolated. The North’s leader Kim Jong-il - under severe stress - died in late 2011.
Park enters the presidential office in a more hostile atmosphere. North Korea is prepared to detonate a nuclear device for the third time despite the presence of a U.S. nuclear submarine here in South Korea. If Pyongyang shuns warnings and resolutions from the United Nations Security Council and goes on with the test, the geopolitical outlook will turn unpredictable. Amid strained tensions between the international community and North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un, the year 2015 will arrive.
By then North Korea may be developing nuclear warheads of less than 1 ton, capable of being fitted on missiles to reach Japan and Guam. Smaller warheads could reach the western coast of the United States. North Korea’s missile and nuclear capacity could become that threatening by 2015 or even earlier.
With nuclear missiles, North Korea would most likely turn more brazen. It would mount threats to South Korea and engage in blatant provocations, including military attacks. The Lee Myung-bak administration could not retaliate and respond aggressively to the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. It would hardly be any bolder against a nuclear-armed North Korea.
By 2015, North Korea could be further isolated and impoverished to the brink of extinction. In no case in world history has a hereditary dictatorship lasted into a third generation. North Korea’s ruling power is that shaky and dangerous. By 2015, the South Korea-U.S. joint command will also be disbanded. Pyongyang would once again be tempted to test its weapons.
Military provocations are not the only danger. Turmoil could come from within North Korea and ignite a unification process. Unification could suddenly arrive one day. Germany’s reunification took place within a year of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Park becomes president of South Korea at a critical period. Her father was the subject of numerous provocations from North Korea, but not on today’s scale. The nuclear threat is now an imminent reality. She cannot afford to make mistakes in appointments.
Park must muster the most powerful and reliable security team composed of the prime minister, head of the national security office, defense minister and national intelligence service chief.
They all should be equipped with military experience and competence in crisis situations. As her numbers indicate, Park Geun-hye needs to be ready to be the resolute leader required in turbulent times.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin