Park gains from eventful life
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Being a child of an incumbent president isn’t as fancy as it sounds, Rep. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party recalled in her autobiography, when she reflected on her childhood years spent in Cheong Wa Dae.
Park, now 60, is the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, the longest-serving leader in the history of modern Korea who was assassinated by then director of the Korean CIA, Kim Jae-kyu on Oct. 26, 1979.
“Certainly spending my early childhood years in the presidential residence was a very special thing because not just anyone has that kind of life. It is true that there are perks that children of the incumbent leader are entitled to,” Park said. “My childhood in Cheong Wa Dae, however, was full of ‘don’ts’ because of my mother. She repeatedly told me to behave and be extremely careful not to hurt other people’s feelings with the benefits allotted to me as the President’s daughter.”
The life so far of the presidential candidate has been three distinct periods – early years of privilege as a child growing up in Cheong Wa Dae, an 18-year-long ordeal after leaving the Blue House and the late 1990s when she entered the political arena as a lawmaker.
She denied the allegation that the late President Park was behind the plot to kidnap Kim Dae-jung in August 1973.
Former late president Kim was then a campaigner for democracy and a politician who was elected to the Blue House in 1997. She disclosed details of how her father reacted to the incident.
“After reading the stories about the kidnapping, my father was upset and blamed those who did it, although he had no idea of who was responsible at that time. I got a sense that he was suspicious of North Korea as being behind the incident,” Park said.
Park, along with her two siblings, had to leave the presidential residence shortly after her father was assassinated in 1979 after Chun Doo-hwan led a military coup later that year on Dec.19. It was a first stage action that resulted in Chun becoming president of South Korea on Sep. 1, 1980.
The next nearly two decades were full of ordeals. The eldest daughter of the late President Park had to weather tough times as the following governments launched a campaign to paint her late father as a ruthless dictator in order to discredit his legacy.
“I was literally shocked at seeing people who were close to my father change and turn their back on my family. False allegations and rumors (about President Park) headlined newspapers and magazines and those stories were based on testimonies made by the aides of my father,” she said.
Those dark days and interactions sharpened her instincts, causing her to carefully distinguish between people she could trust and those likely to double-cross her when times are tough.
“I realized that (many) people were seeking political clout at the expense of their beliefs or values. They didn’t hesitate to betray, if that’s what it took for them to gain power,” Park said.
Her bittersweet experiences with people influenced her later when she chose her aides. Insiders say Park tends to hold hard feelings for a long time toward people who betray her. “She welcomes those who are willing to work for her, but is slow to forgive people who have turned their backs on her before,” an aide said asking for anonymity.
Park is one of the few South Korean politicians who met the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. After entering the political arena as a lawmaker of the Grand National Party in the late 1990s, she got an offer to visit the Stalinist state in May, 2002.
North Korea made the four-day trip proposal through the Europe-Korea Foundation based in Seoul. The non-profit group provides humanitarian assistance to North Korea, such as by donating footballs and medicine.
Park said on several occasions that she heard from people who had visited the North that the regime there had wanted to invite her. But the invitation through the Europe-Korea Foundation was the first direct offer, which she accepted.
During her trip as a citizen, Park had a one-on-one meeting with the late North Korean leader on May 13, 2002.
“Kim was frank and somewhat outspoken. After greeting each other briefly, he abruptly made an apology for the North Korean elite army’s failed attack on Cheong Wa Dae in 1968,” Park said.
Kim, who died in December, last year, was quoted as saying that extremists in the North made a serious mistake and he regretted the incident. He went on to say that all those who were involved in the attack were punished.
Park said the meeting was productive because Kim listened to her and expressed deep interest in her suggestion to construct an inter-Korean railway that would link with the Siberian railway.
She was appointed chairwoman of the GNP in 2004 when the GNP faced turmoil after the failure of a party-driven campaign to impeach then President Roh Moo-hyun. She overhauled the party and made the selection process of the candidates running in the National Assembly elections transparent. In this way, she earned the reputation of being an effective leader.