It seems that American foreign focus has shifted to the east in recent months and for good reason. With rising tensions between the U.S. and both China and Russia, it is wise to be watching the east. This week offers another interesting turn of events in the east, one whose consequences have yet to be felt. The South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, has been impeached among controversy of corruption and abuse of power.
Park is the first female president of South Korea, a pretty big deal in male-dominated Asia. Second, she is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who seized a military dictatorship in South Korea in the 70’s. She is nothing if not culturally and politically significant. In 2012, she was elected president, ironically gaining much of her success by calling attention to her rival’s corruption.
However, as Park came to power, she was removed from it last Friday via a unanimous and clear ruling from South Korea’s courts. Her removal from office revolves around scandals involving her lifelong friend Choi Soon-sil. Choi has been accused of exercising undue influence on the South Korean leader and among other things, extortion. Park was found guilty of “betraying the peoples trust” and “violating the constitution.” Thus her impeachment became official, with a great victory of the law over a ruler. Except she almost didn’t leave power, which would have set South Korea back nearly 40 years.
When the decision was announced, Park’s attorney announced that she did not accept the choice, and that it was a result of “left leaning and North-Korean sympathizing.” Although she maintains that the ruling was the result of lies, she did eventually leave office after four days of silence. Thus, impeachment was carried out peacefully. More than the impeachment itself, it is the very fact that impeachment went through without violence that means the most for South Korea.
Impeaching a president is a trying thing for any democracy, and for one as young as South Korea’s, it could have been potentially devastating. Add in the fact that in the near past South Korea existed as a military dictatorship and that the daughter of that autocrat was in power, the peaceful transfer of power becomes even more important. It, in many ways, is the ultimate test of a new democracy, and South Korea passed with flying colors.
This is important in many ways. First, it solidifies an important ally in an area of the world that is slowly growing to be pseudo-enemies of the U.S. Second, it solidifies south Korea against an increasingly aggressive North Korea. Just this past week they conducted missile tests and released a statement along with them spouting aggressive anti-west sentiments and threats. South Korea would be on top of the list for an aggressive North Korea, so maintaining political and civil infrastructure is paramount for the south Koreans as North Korea becomes more and more aggressive.
Lastly, it really is an idealistic victory for South Korea, because, as mentioned earlier, they have a history of violent transfers of power, and to deal with this one so peacefully bodes well for a country that is quickly growing in every way possible. Yet, while this is all good news, it comes at the price that there needed to be a transfer of power in the first place.
The president is not the only powerful South Korean on trial for corruption, so is Lee Jay-Yong, the nominal Vice- Chairman of Samsung, but de- facto leader of the company. It is important that he faces similar charges as the president because he controls a little over ten percent of the gross domestic product of South Korea, a startlingly large percentage for one man. South Korea has problems, that much is clear.
Yet, what is both clear and encouraging is that they are dealing with these problems peacefully and constitutionally, providing impetus for and setting themselves up for long term democratic stability, something that is in short supply in the far east region today, especially with the recent increase in China-U.S. tensions.