The election of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s next president gives Taiwan a chance to advance bilateral relations as well as more leeway to deploy its global economic engagement strategies, academics said at a forum in Taipei yesterday.
Park deserved to be called a “Taiwan hand,” former representative to South Korea Lee Chung-ru (李宗儒) said.
She has been to Taiwan several times, understands Chinese, and is still influenced by the high-profile friendship between the two countries back in 1960s and 1970s when her father was in power, Lee said.
“We don’t take it for granted that Park’s personal connection to Taiwan will shape South Korea’s foreign policy in Taiwan’s favor, but we can expect that it will have a positive impact on bilateral relations,” Lee told a forum hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations.
Another former representative to South Korea, Chen Yeong-cho (陳永綽), told the forum that he expected Park to display flexibility and goodwill in trying to work with Taiwan, rather than rigidly sticking to the “one China” policy normally embraced by South Korea.
Seoul, under Park’s leadership, is likely to remain mum on issues relating to Taiwan’s interests in the international arena, because South Korea runs a huge trade surplus against China, but “she is always willing to extend a helping hand whenever we raise needs,” Chen said.
Tsai Zheng-jia (蔡增家), a research fellow at the institute, said that Park might slow down the pace of free-trade talks because she cares more about trade liberalization effects on the development of small and medium-sized enterprises than South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has.
Talks on a free-trade agreement involving South Korea, Japan and China will not be high on Park’s agenda after she is inaugurated in February, Tsai said.
“She would rather focus on issues related to big family conglomerates, the wealth gap and social injustices instead,” he said.
China, Japan and South Korea, have announced that they will launch negotiations on a three-nation free-trade zone. The first round of talks is scheduled for next month.
That would give Taiwan leeway to step up its economic engagement with China under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and with other trading partners, Tsai said.
Chang Shao-wen (張少文), an associate professor at Shih Hsin University, said that Park is expected to soften a hardline policy that has been adopted by her predecessors in the past 10 years during which tension in Korean Peninsula remain high.
If Park’s policy toward Pyongyang would improve the North-South relations, the role of China in the North Korean problem will evolve in a way that would help Taiwan boost its relations with Seoul, Chang said.