South Korea in­terim leader faces big and thorny is­sues

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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