The Yomiuri ShimbunSouth Korean President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment is an alarming situation given the rising military threat from North Korea. There are concerns about stability in the East Asia region and the impact on relations between Japan and South Korea.
The South Korean Constitutional Court declared its verdict on the decision to dismiss Park, and Park fell from power. It was a unanimous ruling by the eight justices.
It is the first time in its history that a South Korean president has been dismissed after the country’s Constitutional Court upheld an impeachment vote. It is also the first time a president has not served a full term since the nation’s democratization in 1987.
Deeper divisions feared
The South Korean parliament impeached Park in December for reasons including the fact that she allowed her friend Choi Soon Sil to intervene in state affairs. The Constitutional Court has been examining the case following the impeachment.
In the verdict, the court recognized that Park assisted fund-raising activities of foundations that Choi was involved in. “Use of her position as president and abuse of power for the benefit of Choi violate the Constitution and the public service law,” the court judged.
The court also pointed out that Park concealed Choi’s intervention in state affairs and refused to be questioned by prosecutors as well as special prosecutors who were investigating cases independent from the government. The court concluded that Park had “no intention to comply with the Constitution.”
If the Constitutional Court has exercised its power to placate the will of the people seeking Park’s dismissal, it seems to have gone too far.
Since last autumn, large protests against Park have been held every week. In a public opinion survey just before the verdict was delivered, nearly 80 percent of respondents supported the dismissal of Park as president. Park’s allowing her friend — who has no expertise — to intervene in state affairs has had a significant impact.
Those opposed to her dismissal also have held street rallies, and confrontations between the two opposing sides have intensified. There were deaths and injuries in a clash between demonstrators and police on the day of the ruling.
In the indictment of Choi and others, Park was recognized as their accomplice. With her ouster from office, Park lost her immunity from prosecution and could face arrest. If that were to occur, the political turmoil may unavoidably continue. Both sides must maintain their composure to prevent social division further deepening.
No ‘Miracle of Han River’
Park was elected as South Korea’s first female president in 2012 on the back of her popularity as the oldest daughter of late President Park Chung Hee — one of the founders of South Korean conservatism.
In her inauguration address, Park put forward the idea of a “Second Miracle of Han River,” to develop South Korea’s economy amid the nation’s globalization for the happiness of the people. However Park’s reign, with one year left to run, has ended with results falling far from her proposed vision.
The South Korean economy, marked by dependence on exports led by conglomerates, has hit a snag due to a slowdown in the Chinese economy, resulting in a sluggish growth rate. Above all, this has brought about a harsh employment environment for Korea’s young people.
The sense of discontent spreading across South Korean society served as the basis from which an antigovernment movement expanded.
Regarding the area of military security, her administration deserves praise for its efforts to remain unchanged in adopting a resolute attitude toward North Korea’s nuclear tests and other acts of provocation, and to increase pressure on the North.
However, Park miscalculated when she sought closer relations with China, in the expectation that the latter would exert its influence on the North — even going so far as attending a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of China’s “victory” in “the War of Resistance against Japan” in Beijing in September 2015. Witnessing China’s continued support for the North, she may have recognized her own error.
Keep deterring N. Korea
Due to North Korea’s ballistic missile launches and Kim Jong Nam’s murder, tensions are rising daily over matters related to the Korean Peninsula. It must not be forgotten that continued cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is imperative, even during the period of political transition in Seoul.
Work has started on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), a state-of-the-art missile defense system, to U.S. forces in South Korea.
South Korea will be required to assume an unbending stance in this respect, not yielding to various forms of pressure exerted by China, which has persistently opposed the THAAD deployment.
A South Korean presidential election will be held by early May. Worryingly, support is growing for the person tipped to be the candidate representing a left-leaning opposition party conciliatory toward the North.
According to an opinion survey, the former leader of an opposition party who attaches importance to economic cooperation between the North and the South is ranked first in popular support. He once went so far as to say, “If elected, I’ll visit North Korea first, not the United States.”
His stance on Japan is no less questionable. He has rejected a Japan-South Korea deal regarding the issue of comfort women, and has also openly supported a citizens group that erected a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan. It is uncertain when the Japanese government will send two diplomats — the ambassador to South Korea and the consul general in Busan, both of whom were temporarily returned to Japan — back to South Korea to resume their duties.
Park demanded unilateral concessions from Japan over the issue of comfort women, and she did not agree to hold talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for more than 2½ years after taking office. Among the successive South Korean presidents, starting with Chun Doo Hwan, Park was the only one who had no opportunity to visit Japan while in office.
However, the Japan-South Korea deal is a precious diplomatic achievement realized through concessions between Park and Japan.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has emphasized, “[Japan] must facilitate cooperation with a new [South Korean] administration in various fields.” It is vital to continually press South Korea for action so it will faithfully implement the deal.