New Zealand and South Korea: A Sixty-Year Link: Paul Bellamy Provides an Overview of New Zealand's Relations with the Republic of Korea

Article excerpt

Modern political parties based on democratic principles were first introduced in the Republic of Korea after liberation from the Japanese in 1945. In 1946 the South Chosun Provisional Legislative Council was convened to write the National Assembly Election Law and the Constituent Assembly took place 1948-50. Unlike New Zealand, the Republic of Korea has a written constitution (1948). The Liberal Party (established in 1951, during the Korean War) was the first to establish a nationwide organisation. Political parties opposing government parties faced persecution by successive military governments, the first of which seized power in 1961. Political parties were dissolved and in 1980 political activities by party members were banned, but only for a limited time during the martial law declared by the military government.

Major political change occurred in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 1987 a constitutional amendment reinstated the principle of the direct and popular election of the president, and Kim Young-sam became the first civilian president in 1993. In 1997 the first genuine transfer of power between a ruling and opposition party took place. Following the 1997-98 financial crisis, President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) emphasised a 'sunshine policy' of engagement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the need to renew international confidence in South Korea's economy. Under President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-08) diplomatic activities sought to encourage regional partners to urge North Korea to seek peaceful and diplomatic engagement with the international community and to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes.


Presidential system

Unlike New Zealand, the Republic of Korea has a president elected for a single five-year term. The president presides over the Cabinet, and is solely responsible for deciding all important government policies. The prime minister is appointed by the president and approved by the National Assembly, the legislative branch. As principal executive assistant to the president, the prime minister supervises the administrative ministries and manages the Office for Government Policy Co-ordination under the president's direction. The prime minister also has the power to determine major national policies, and to attend National Assembly meetings. Han Seung-soo has been the Prime Minister since February 2008. His previous positions include being the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2001-02 and President of the UN General Assembly 2001-02.


The current President is Lee Myungbak. Lee was the victorious presidential candidate of the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) in the December 2007 election. A former senior executive of the Hyundai Group and Mayor of Seoul (the capital), he attracted 48.7 per cent of the vote, compared to Chung Dong-young from the opposition United New Democratic Party (UNDP) (26.1 per cent) and former GNP colleague Lee Hoi-chang (15.1 per cent), who ran as an independent. Domestically, Lee was elected on an economic reform platform. This included further economic deregulation and a crackdown on illegal labour action by unions. Internationally, Lee emphasises closer ties with traditional allies such as the United States and Japan, while taking a tougher stance towards North Korea based on the principle of reciprocity. (1)

Since winning power Lee's popularity has declined markedly. This decline was symbolised by the mass protests in Seoul during May 2008. These were influenced by safety concerns over the decision to allow back into South Korea US beef exports that had been stopped in 2003 after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in an American cow. The first shipment of US beef arrived in July after further safeguards were negotiated. Lee has publicly apologised for failing to acknowledge public health concerns over beef and has removed ministers and top advisors. …