진보, or jinbo, means progressive in korean. South Korea has had its fair shares of progressive presidents that led to huge movements or radical changes in their existing society. In comparison to the more communist North Korea, South Korea struggled to find a common ground in the democratic system while trying to imitate the political model of the United States at the time. This article will take a closer look into three of South Korea’s most significant Progressive Presidents.
Kim Dae-Jung (1998-2003)
Kim Dae-Jung was the second democratic activist President of South Korea after Yun Bo-seon, who ended up being overthrown in a military coup. He created and implemented the Sunshine Policy, which was centered around giving aid to North Korea. This policy will be expanded on in a future post. He was recognized by North Korean leader at the time Kim Jong-Un for his “work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” Kim Dae-Jung also took office in the midst of an economic crisis, and pushed for economic reform and restructuring, by holding bigger companies, or chaebols accountable by cutting their state subsidies.
Roo Moo-Hyun served right after Kim Dae-Jung, and he maintained the Sunshine Policy of engagement towards North Korea. Roh had support for the Uri party after leaving the Millennium Democratic Party in 2003. The National Assembly tried impeaching him because of the law for presidential impartiality, but the public would not let them impeach him, as the protest against the impeachment notion was led by citizen’s movement for eradicating corruption. Roh faced challenges regarding trying to establish South Korea as an economic hub, as the economic development was also slowed due to soaring housing prices.
Moon Jae-In is the current President of South Korea since 2017, and he was elected as the candidate of the Democratic Party after Park Geun-Hye was impeached. He was a former human rights lawyer, student activist, and chief of staff to past President, Roh Moo-hyun. Moon led waves over Korea regarding both domestic and foreign policies. He enforced the Chaebolreform, where it introduced greater transparency in the companies’ corporate governance structure, in addition to reversing the mandate on using state-issued history textbooks that was previous enforced by past President Park Geun-Hye. Most importantly, Moon stressed the reunification process as a long term project rather than having any specific detailed plans about it.
Why not all Progressives forever then?
The problem with having that kind of mindset is that looking back at the past, I feel that nothing can truly be sorted from black and white. It would definitely be easier that way if people can be sorted from black and white, but that shouldn’t be the case, as no human being is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, but at the same time, everyone is capable of some great things. That is why as a nation, Korea should not lean towards one side completely, but would benefit more from remaining in that grey neutral area.
sourceLooking at Park Chung-hee for example, most people will look at him as the militaristic leader that overthrew South Korea’s government at the time in a coup. There was also controversy on how there was a conspiracy theory revolving around South Korea’s last president Park Geun-Hye, because she was the daughter of Park Chung-hee. But people tend to revel in the mistakes that they have made, instead of remembering what they have done as a whole. Looking past those mistakes that they have made, Park Chun-gee also successfully industrialized South Korea and improved the economy significantly. He also proposed a myriad of relevant policies, movements, and diplomatic pacts that contributed to constructing modern South Korea.
Seeing as how all of South Korea’s presidents’ actions made the country it is today, including the good AND the bad ones, it draws major implications from my perspective regarding their political status in the event of a reunification. A major problem with other countries agreeing to the reunification is its political turnout in the event of the reunification. If they end up retaining South Korea’s government, Russia and China would be against this process, while it is vice versa for the United States and Japan if they retain the government of North Korea.
sourceI believe that purely from a compromising standpoint that Korea should remain neutral as a nation both economically and politically to potentially kill two birds with one stone. From an economic standpoint, Korea can adopt proposals and policies from both the democratic and conservative side without having to take a side. From a political standpoint, Korea can develop as a standalone nation, cultivating their strength while avoiding potential political arguments from both sides.