South Korea interim leader faces big and thorny issues
South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who had a largely ceremonial job, now has to face off against North Korea and deal with edgy relations with Japan after becoming the country’s interim leader following President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment last week. After meeting with government officials and visiting the military headquarters, Hwang told fellow Cabinet members yesterday that there are no unusual security or economic developments. But critics say he’ll soon face a slew of big, thorny issues that will test his leadership while the Constitutional Court reviews whether to endorse Park’s impeachment to formally end her rule. Here is a look at several major issues that lie ahead for Hwang:
Hwang’s first move as interim leader was to tell his defense minister to bolster readiness against any possible provocation by North Korea. North Korea hasn’t made international headlines since its fifth and biggest-ever nuclear test in September. That could just be in line with its nuclear development timetable, but given that Park and North Korea had terrible relations, Pyongyang might also want to avoid doing anything that could unite conservatives in South Korea behind Park.
In a sign of the ongoing tensions, the North’s state media on Sunday released photos showing a smiling leader Kim Jong Un watching a practice attack on a replica of Park’s presidential Blue House. A team of commandoes parachuted, shot at the Blue House model with rifles and left it engulfed in flames and black smoke. There are also worries about any actions by the North after it was slapped with tougher UN sanctions this month and by what some analysts think will be its desire to test the incoming US government of President-elect Donald Trump.
It’s probably the first major, hot-button issue that Hwang will face. Park’s government had been pushing to require schools to use state-authored history textbooks from next year, saying current textbooks published by private companies are too left-leaning and sympathize with North Korea. But in the wake of massive antigovernment protests touched off by the political scandal involving Park’s longtime confidante, the government took a step back, saying it wants to hear various opinions before making a final decision Dec 23. The liberal opposition is pressuring the government to scrap the textbook plan, calling it a move to beautify past authoritarian leaders, including Park’s late father Park Chung-hee.
The elder Park is a deeply divisive figure, with critics calling him a horrible human rights abuser who imprisoned and tortured dissidents, while supporters call him a national hero who guided the country out poverty. Hwang, a former justice minister, is a strong supporter of stateauthored textbooks. But South Korean media say it could be difficult for him to stand up to opposition parties that have gained a greater say over state affairs after impeaching Park. — AP
South Korea’s Prime Minister and acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn