PUBLIC’S anti-corruption drive has won in South Korea. The country’s president has been removed from office on the charges of corruption and undermining trust in president’s office by the Supreme Court. It has established separation of power in the country. The eight-member court unanimously found Park guilty. It upheld the decision of the lawmakers. The majority of South Koreans (70-80%) supported ouster of Park for breach of public trust. It is a victory for democracy. Stripped of her immunity, Park will have to face courts like ordinary citizens. She is likely to face corruption charges in these courts including her alleged involvement in Samsung case and a separate $40m bribery case. More than 30 people surrounding her are also going to face criminal proceeding on similar grounds.
Park used country’s foreign policy and pro-west alliances to rule the country with impunity. She used pro-west policies to avoid democratic accountability and legal punishment. But her departure shows that national interest won. It is also a message to other world leaders who are involved in similar practices including corruption, money laundering, undermining rule of law and democracy. As per the South Korea’s law, presidential elections will have to be held within 60 days. The pro-left power is likely to win. In that case, Park’s departure is positive development for the Korean Peninsula and region itself. It is going to bring an end to pro-west policies in the country, which Park was pursuing.
On the face of it, democracy has won. Justice has been served. It took long time to remove Park which shows that every effort was made to save her due to the geo-strategic interests of the West in the Peninsula and beyond. On foreign policy front, Park’s departure could be the start of peace in the Korean Peninsula. Under the Sunshine Policy articulated by President Kim Dae-Jung, South Korea maintained greater political contact with North Korea between 1998 and 2008. There were two Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. Kim was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his successful implementation of Sunshine Policy to bring two countries together.
The latest poll results show that South Korean people have different attitude towards North Korea. They are much more accommodative towards the North. They say that let’s talk to them. They are our kith and kin. There is support for opening of existing joint ventures on the border of North and South Korea. The tension had grown between the two countries after Park took office in 2012. Her departure could bring an end to the confrontational approach and return of peaceful way towards solving the outstanding issues between both countries. It will pave the way for subsequent progress towards easing of cross border movement and other confidence building measures leading towards some kind of “unification” of both countries ultimately.
Unfortunately, every time both countries tried to move in this direction, the vested stakes thwarted the efforts including the destruction of South Korean naval vessel carrying 48 troops, troop deployment and exchange of fire. The recent developments of military deployment by South Korea in North Korea’s border area, US-South Korea joint military exercise and US-Japan security alliance have prompted retaliatory reaction from North Korea. Pyongyang defends its actions of missile launch and nuclear developments as acts of self defense.
China has rightly raised its concerns over proposed deployment of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) in South Korea. Beijing maintains that the system’s range exceeds far beyond South Korea and it undermines China’s strategic interests including its nuclear second-strike capability. Beijing is already unhappy with the situation in the region due to growing Japan military spending and deepening US-Japan defense cooperation following Abe’s Washington visit.
With possible election of pro-left leadership, China’s proposal for peace in Peninsula has a future. If the new South Korea president upholds public interest, it could help end western policy of “squeeze and collapse” against North Korea which it pursued with Park’s support. The fear of Koreas heading towards collision course, as warned by Beijing, will subside. But then Pyongyang will have to act responsibly by moving towards denuclearization, returning to dialogues to normalize relations between both countries and opening up with rest of the world.
If both Koreas are careful in protecting their interests, they should allow existing peace mechanisms to resume bringing both countries together, normalizing relations and helping bring peace to the Korean Peninsula and the region. Beijing can support both Koreas at regional level. The West, the UN and EU should support them to resolve their differences peacefully under the agreed frameworks including Sunshine Policy and respect the will of Korean people who want to have closer relations with each other. The end of Park is good for South Korea. But she was just another pawn in international politics. The leaders of Mynmar, India, Israel, UK or Sudan are getting away with corruption, undermining rights of minorities and gross human rights violations as major players protect their geo-strategic interests while the West, the UN and the EU fail to uphold their legal and moral responsibilities. That explains why public loses trust in the rule of law, judiciary, media and democracy. The situation in Pakistan is no different.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.