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South Korea's new president faces hard times at home and new international demands

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Publication Date: January 1993

Publisher(s): East-West Center

Author(s): Wonmo Dong; Charles Edward Morrison

Series: AsiaPacific issues ; no. 4

Topic: Economics (Economic conditions)
Government (Foreign relations)

Type: Report

Coverage: Korea (South)


Once impoverished, South Korea is now an economically powerful and influential country. It is also increasingly democratic, and this month inaugurates its first popularly elected, civilian president in three decades, Kim Young Sam. But democracy has brought with it social disruption, demands for higher wages and overspending. President Kim inherits a stalled economy (the real growth rate, though more than 6 percent, is half of what it was in 1987), increasing pressures to control Korea's giant corporations, bitter regional tensions and suspended talks with North Korea. While South Korea's diplomatic and trade ties in the region now include Russia and China, Kim will need to improve relations with Japan, toward which many Koreans are still bitter. Finally, he must work with the new Clinton administration to redefine Korea's relationship with the United States. Korea has accepted new responsibility for its shared defense. But Kim, who campaigned on a pledge to protect Korean markets, is likely to find himself caught between Washington's demands for trade concessions and an increasingly nationalistic Korean electorate.