South Korea has voted in a female leader, president-elect Park Geun-hye, the daughter of military strongman and contemporary of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) former South Korean president Park Chung-hee. In that, she is no ordinary person, but even more extraordinary is the reaction of individuals within the governing and opposition parties of Taiwan.
A country’s presidential election is a domestic affair. The values of the electorates of each and every country, and the way these countries go about their elections, is different from nation to nation. So long as the election is fair and free, it is the right of the electorate in each respective country to elect whomever they choose. Other countries can just observe and hope that mutual relations will remain harmonious after the event. There is no point making a fuss about the result.
Taiwan’s present government, which has observed a diplomatic truce with China for some time, seems to have forgotten even this most basic set of state-to-state etiquette. Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) remarked that he would “calmly keep an eye on the situation,” as if he were talking about a loss for his party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in a local election. It suggested that there was no reason for concern at the moment, but that the jury was not yet out. There was not even a suggestion that the two sides could work together going forward.
The KMT seems to be seeing South Korea as the DPP. Rather than congratulating the new president and expressing a wish to advance mutual relations, the KMT’s response is suggestive of the party adopting an antagonistic stance, as if it were squaring up for future confrontations. How different this is from the approach of US President Barack Obama, who offered Park his congratulations and emphasized the importance of mutual relations, expressing his hope that the two governments could work together.
The public have concentrated on the next South Korean president’s gender and that she is the daughter of a former military dictator. Naturally, for South Korea, a country still profoundly influenced by the traditional patriarchal cultural values of Confucianism and Taoism, to elect a female president is indeed an event of some significance.
Park’s advantage, or perhaps her only sin, is that she had a military strongman for a father. Her mother, Yuk Young-soo, was murdered by a North Korean sympathizer years before her father’s assassination and so she filled her mother’s shoes on formal occasions. As such, she was also seen by some as tarnished by her father’s poor record on human rights. That notwithstanding, at least 51 percent of the South Korean electorate apparently did not consider it appropriate to lay the sins of the father at his daughter’s feet.
Having suffered under the dictatorial rule of Chiang and his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), there are some in Taiwan who have reservations about the offspring of a former dictator coming to power in South Korea. However, there are clear differences between the two situations. Park Chung-hee was not a dictator of a foreign power and neither did his daughter automatically assume the reins of power after his death as if through some form of imperial succession. Park Geun-hye was elected in free and fair elections by the South Korean public about three decades after her father died.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper