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China Daily Website

Park wins close ROK election

Updated: 2012-12-20 01:58
By Zhang Yunbi and Li Xiaokun ( China Daily)

First female president to enhance relations with China, analysts say

Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a former president of the Republic of Korea, won a hard-fought election on Wednesday to become the country's first female president.

Her victory is "undoubtedly good news" for Seoul's relations with Beijing, and relations between Pyongyang and Seoul should improve, experts said.

Park had a slight edge over Moon Jae-in, son of refugees from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. She won just over 50 percent of the vote.

The ROK limits presidents to a single five-year term and Park will replace Lee Myung-bak on Feb 25.

Park, 60, will return to the Blue House, where she served as her father's first lady in the 1970s after her mother was assassinated.

Park said that her victory would help her country's economy recover, Reuters reported.

"This is a victory brought by the people's hope for overcoming crisis and economic recovery," she told supporters in Seoul.

Voter turnout, nearly 80 percent, was the highest in 15 years. Huge crowds lined up in bitterly cold weather to choose between the two candidates. Both distanced themselves from Lee's policies, even though Park is a five-term legislator for Lee's party.

Young and old voters alike stood in line despite the freezing cold on Wednesday, a national holiday. Electric stoves inside polling stations provided warmth.

Park's base is composed mainly of older voters who remember with fondness what they see as the firm economic and security guidance of her father, Park Chung-hee.

"I believe in Park,'' Choi Yong-ja, a 59-year-old housekeeper, told AP as she left a polling station at a Seoul school. "She has the political experience.''

Some voters were unsatisfied with Lee's policies, including his hard-line stance on Pyongyang.

Park and Moon agreed that the country needs greater engagement with Pyongyang.

Huang Youfu, a professor of Korean studies at Minzu University of China, said the incoming Park administration could herald a warmer political climate on the Korean Peninsula.

"Given the impending necessity for an early start of the Six-Party Talks, the incoming president's policy regarding Pyongyang will be warmer than Lee's," Huang said.

However, Seoul will not slacken its push, with Washington and Tokyo, for harsh sanctions from the UN Security Council over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch, he added.

Analysts also expressed confidence in the new leadership's ability to balance its need for maintaining the traditional alliance with the US and pursuing a warmer atmosphere on the peninsula.

Seoul can accommodate its peninsula policy, and its alliance with Washington, if it is constructive, Jin Yingji, a researcher of Northeast Asian studies at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

ROK voters also expressed fears over the economy with the widening income gap and welfare issues high on the agenda.

Xu Changwen, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, said the new president, who vowed to boost ties with China during the campaign, is undoubtedly "good news" for the deepening of China-ROK relations.

China is now the ROK's largest trade partner, boasting an annual trade volume greater than that of the ROK's trade with Japan and the US combined.

"The negotiations for a China-ROK free trade agreement are going well, and closer economic ties will enhance political trust between the two neighbors," Xu said.

The rising number of Chinese tourists going to Seoul in the second half of this year has boosted the economy, Xu added.

Jin, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Seoul is now more eager than ever to attract foreign investment to ease the heavy burden of unemployment and a rapidly aging population.

The situation on the peninsula has cast a shadow over foreign investors, she said. That is another motivation behind Park's efforts pushing for warmer relations with Pyongyang, Jin said.

Contact the writers at zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn and lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn

AP contributed to this story.

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