Roh Moo Hyun (pronounced "Noh Moo Hyun") is the current president
of South Korea
In our past history, there was a misplaced perception that honesty hardly pays and wrong ways are worthy of success. Without changing this mindset, it is hardly possible to anticipate higher levels of social-historical progress. Now is the time to build a society in which honest and faithful people succeed through fair competition. We should hand down to our children a society full of human dignity and a tradition in which principles prevail.
He was born on August 6, 1946
, Gyeongsang Namdo
province, and graduated from high school in Busan
. After doing his compulsory national service
, he studied for the national bar examination
, passing in 1975
After that, he served as a district court judge in Daejeon for a year, and then entered private practice. During the early 80's, he gained fame as a human rights lawyer, which, as his predecessor Kim Dae Jung would tell you, wasn't exactly the easiest job in Korea back then, what with all the bloody coups going on. Like Kim, Roh ended up going too far in his crusade for democracy: he was jailed and disbarred in 1987 for helping a labor union at Daewoo organize an illegal strike.
When you lose your recourse to the law, the next best thing is politics. In 1988, Roh was elected to one of Busan's seats on the National Assembly, following the messy downfall of authoritarian president Chun Doo Hwan. Roh shone in this environment, becoming one of Korea's most famous anti-corruption figures. He served in the legislature for four years before being voted out in 1992, after a three-party merger had left him in a fledgling opposition Democratic Party.
Roh then took up a variety of odd political jobs. He was Kim Dae Jung's campaign manager during the elections of 1992 (under the United Democratic Party) and 1997 (under the National Congress for New Politics). Despite Roh's many failed attempts at getting back into office during this period, he finally re-entered the National Assembly in 1998 representing a district in Seoul. When he tried to return to Busan the following year, however, the voters there turned him down, so his second legislative tenure was even shorter than the first.
Despite this, Roh remained a senior official in the rechristened Millennium Democratic Party, and won their presidential nomination in the 2002 primary election. Finally, on December 19, 2002, he became the sixteenth president of the country, defeating Lee Hoi Chang of the Grand National Party and Kwon Young Gil of the Democratic Labor Party.
I can transform this great national energy and spirit that our people have shown in this election into a future of hope. I will pay you back by building a new Republic of Korea that will make all Koreans proud.
South Korea's politics are largely shaped by what happens in and around North Korea. Unlike his hawkish rivals, Roh favors a policy of appeasement similar to Kim Dae Jung's, stressing the development of ties between the two Korean states. He has taken a hard rhetorical stance against the North's nuclear weapons program, but says that Korean unification is "a process for which we have to build trust and accumulate for peace."
He stands firm in maintaining the Korean defense relationship with the United States, despite widespread protests of the arrangement. Roh has stated that the U.S. troops in the DMZ are necessary as a security measure, and that the American sacrifice in the Korean War must not be forgotten. "Now," Roh said, "there are no responsible figures in the United States mentioning the possibility of an attack against North Korea. Rather, they are actively voicing support for a peaceful solution."
The Roh administration has also worked toward rapproachment with its other neighbor and ancient colonial oppressor, Japan. According to Roh, "the past should not put a shackle on the future relationship of the two countries, barring it from moving forward, because moving forward is important." He has also favored improved relations with other regional powers such as Russia and China.
Roh stated his domestic mission shortly after winning the election. "At this very moment," he said, "we affirm we are a proud and civilized people. Now, the remaining task is to reform the political, governmental, economic, press, legal and social systems to fit the level of our national conscience."
He adheres to what he calls "the philosophy of restraining the rich and strengthening the poor," and has pushed laws to regulate and restructure Korea's bulging chaebol mega-corporations. However, you can't call him a socialist: his goal is to make South Korea an ideal environment for small business and investment, and state industry is nowhere on his platform. "The direction of economic reform," he says, will be "oriented toward autonomy, transparency and fairness."
As in the past, Roh has backed legislation to improve relations between companies and unions. He says that "transparent management constitutes the most important condition for mutual trust... corporations should disclose management data clearly and engage labor in dialogue." His administration favors mediation before sending in the troops.
Koreans tend to join forces when things get tough. The challenges lying before us may be tough, but we have ample potential to tackle them. Let us all work together, overcome the difficulties with collective power, demonstrate our wisdom and change this crisis into an opportunity.