Park’s lessons from her fatherDuring the fall of 1963, Park Chung Hee, then chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, felt extremely frustrated. The United States stopped its agricultural product assistance after he broke his promise to hand over power to a civilian government and announced his presidential bid on Aug. 13 of that year. The U.S. government’s decision made the situation worse as grain prices skyrocketed due to poor harvest in Korea. The leader of one of the poorest countries, who came to power with a military coup in 1961, was facing a crisis despite his promise to the people to end their poverty.
Park had carried out a currency reform in the previous year, but it failed. That also worsened his situation. As he had no resources to finance his first five-year economic development plan, Park made a drastic move to implement currency reform. He intended to use the black money exposed through the currency exchange process as a source of investments. He was ready to face criticism that his plan would infringe upon people’s rights to private property.
To avert U.S. intervention, the new notes were printed in the U.K. As the process was so hurried, the notes were even printed with some typos. When Park made the surprise announcement about the currency reform at 10 p.m. on June 9, 1962, America was so shocked and enraged that it refused to unload the agricultural products it had shipped to Busan and Incheon, demanding Park scrap the measure. As Korea’s life rested on the aid packages, the government had no power to reject the U.S. demand. With teary eyes, Park, after a month, completely scrapped the currency reform by unfreezing the frozen deposits.
In 1962 - the first year of the five-year economic development - Korea’s growth rate was only 2.2 percent. Although Park was later remembered as the initiator of the miracle on the Han River, he repeatedly made mistakes during the early days of his presidency.
His daughter, President Park Geun-hye, is now facing a crisis after her first 100 days in office. Though her performance in foreign affairs and security received positive reviews, she has failed to win the people’s hearts as often seen in her botched appointments. Moreover, she wasted the first six months - the period when a new president enjoys the most power - with no memorable outcome. It’s deja vu of the mistakes her father made during the early days of his rule.
In the aftermath of a series of poor appointments, it took a while for her to complete her new cabinet. “Because my administration was launched with a delay, it doesn’t feel real that 100 days have already passed,” Park said. Kim Dae-jung, when he was president-elect, moved quickly and managed to succeed in negotiations on foreign debts to overcome the foreign exchange crisis in 1997. Park probably envies Kim’s remarkable achievement in the early period of his presidency.
Park must feel that her time is running out fast whenever she looks at the 140 national agenda items and the balance sheet to follow through with her presidential pledges.
Different from her father, who ruled the country for 18 years, Park cannot extend her presidency by a single day. On Feb. 24, 2018, she must leave the Blue House and become a regular citizen again.
There is, however, a way to resolve the time management issue. She can give opportunities to those with different thoughts to participate in important tasks and she can accept her critics with an open-minded attitude.
In fact, that’s exactly what her father did. The core of Park Chung Hee’s economic development model actually came from the Chang Myon government, which he ended with a successful coup. Park uncovered the economic development plan and polished it. On winning power, he did not punish the heads of conglomerates whom he jailed for corruption, but instead used them as pioneers of economic growth. He found a breakthrough with flexible pragmatism by correcting his thoughts boldly and drastically.
Today, President Park is paying special effort to increase our total employment rate to 70 percent and come up with a 135 trillion won ($120.9 billion) budget to finance her ambitious welfare promises. She is also pushing forward her “creative economy” and “economic democratization” campaigns.
Economic justice and welfare are traditionally the liberal opposition parties’ initiatives and they have deeper understanding on the issues than the ruling camp. Both of the issues involve the labor factor, which is basically about handling the people. When you only approach it with fixed numerical goals, you can easily forget the essence of the issue, which is the human factor.
“When one man dies it is a tragedy, if millions die it’s statistics,” Stalin once said. Park must be cautious about the possibility that she may only end up with statistics.
In his novel, “The Song of the Sword,” Kim Hoon wrote “every death is individual.” When Park pays attention to the condition and hardship of the individual life of every single person, her sincerity will be communicated to the people.
If Park can treat her opponents and rivals as political partners to resolve the challenges of our time, she will be able to feel more comfortable. If she can be helped by talented foes who understand her weaknesses well, she can actually become flawless.
She must stay close to the reality of the people’s lives. If she really has a high interest in improving and promoting part-time jobs with hourly wages, she must go to the 24-hour convenience store and face the exhausted life and desperation of part-time workers who stay up all night for the job. The answer can be found in the field, not in a neat report made by public servants. The success of President Park depends upon the changes in Park Geun-hye as a person.
*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Ha-kyung