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New South Korean Leader Warns North Against Nuclear Pursuits

Published: February 25, 2013 | 8:43 am
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Park Jin-Hee/Getty Images
Park Geun-Hye, South Korea’s president, salutes during her inauguration ceremony in front of the National Assembly building on Monday in Seoul.
SEOUL, South Korea — Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a late military strongman, was sworn in Monday as South Korea’s first female president, warning North Korea that the primary victim of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles will be the isolated country itself.

“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,” Ms. Park said in her inaugural address in front of the National Assembly building in Seoul.

She urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay, “instead of wasting its resources on nuclear and missile development and continuing to turn its back to the world in self-imposed isolation.”

Her motorcade’s arrival Monday at the presidential Blue House marked a triumphant moment not just for Ms. Park but for her family. Ms. Park, 61, was returning to her childhood home, 34 years after the assassination of her father, Park Chung-hee, a divisive figure even now. Mr. Park’s 18-year rule was credited with rapidly raising South Korea’s economy from postwar devastation, but his iron-fisted governance was increasingly maligned as the country evolved toward democracy.

Ms. Park was elected in December thanks largely to the support of South Koreans in their 50s and older. Many younger voters were vehemently opposed to her candidacy, saying she represented a return to the past.

North Korea, meanwhile, has again become a prime national security concern. A week before Ms. Park’s election, the North launched a satellite into orbit in defiance of United Nations resolutions. On Feb. 12, it conducted a third nuclear test. The two events have heightened fears that years of efforts by Washington and its allies to rein in the North’s nuclear ambitions have failed, even as Pyongyang appears to have made progress toward achieving the capability to make long-range nuclear missiles.

Speaking Monday before a large crowd — which earlier had been entertained by the rapper Psy, famous for the song “Gangnam Style” — Ms. Park also addressed economic concerns, a major issue in the election. She said her tasks as president would include “achieving economic rejuvenation, the happiness of the people and the flourishing of our culture.”

In a comment reminiscent of her father, she called for a “second miracle on the Han River.” Seoul, which straddles the Han, began transforming itself into an industrialized metropolis under her father, who sought economic growth at all costs and nurtured a handful of family-controlled companies, such as Samsung and Hyundai, as the engines of an export-driven economy.

Now, as his daughter takes office, one of the biggest complaints among ordinary South Koreans is of widening economic inequality, particularly those conglomerates’ overpowering influence on smaller businesses — a grievance Mr. Park addressed in her speech, saying that a second Han River “miracle” should be based on “economic democratization.”

She promised policies designed to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises so that “such businesses can prosper alongside large companies.” She said, “By rooting out various unfair practices and rectifying the misguided habits of the past which have frustrated small business owners and small and medium-sized enterprises, we will provide active support to ensure that everyone can live up to their fullest potential, regardless of where they work or what they do for a living.”


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