The Lee Myung Bak Dossier

Asked about their preferences for the next president, 30 percent said they support former Prime Minister Goh Kun, while 16 percent backed Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye. Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-Bak and Unification Minister Chung Dong-young were third and fourth on the list with 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively. (emphasis mine)

The Grand National Party’s top two contenders for the presidency both owe much to the legacy of Park Chung-Hee. If Ms. Park is the old dictator’s progeny in the biological sense, Lee Myung Bak is much more his progeny ideologically.

Ideological Roots

General Park transformed Korea through large-scale state-controlled projects that reflected his socialist roots, which were themselves influenced by concepts of state-managed development Park learned during the Japanese occupation. Park came of age in a fascist system–fascism itself being an offshoot of communism–in which the state served as an omnipotent economic and social engineer, with corporations serving as junior partners.

Park applied these practices to Korea’s post-war development, and Lee Myung-Bak had a close, if troubled, relationship with Park’s world view, and his own experience mirrors his country’s during that era. Park came from a poor family and put himself through Korea University by doing odd jobs that included collecting garbage. After spending six months in prison for protesting against Park Chung-Hee’s authoritarianism, in 1965 he graduated and turned his energy into the corporate world, rising to the top of Hyundai Construction & Engineering, perhaps the crown jewel of South Korea’s chaebol, at the age of 36.

Lee’s political philosophy could best be described as a faith in the power of heavy equipment. Some would say this is also where he acquired his diplomatic and consensus-building skills. It is not for nothing that he is known as “the bulldozer,” a name Lee reportedly dislikes. With a strong focus on economic issues and an innate social conservatism, Lee’s political base will consist mainly of voters over 40.

Mayor of Seoul

During his tenure as mayor of Seoul, Lee certainly changed the face of the city, though not always for the better and presumably at great cost to taxpayers.

His restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream downtown certainly beautified the city in a sense (before and after pics here, HT: antti), but did no good for its hellish traffic, and came at the terrible, mostly-forgotten cost of destroying–or so my friends report–the Pimat-Gil, the crowded, narrow alleys along the Chong-ro where you could buy grilled mackerel and soju shots on freezing January nights . . . it was one of the most uniquely “Korean” places in Seoul and I will never forgive Lee for destroying it. Others claimedthat the plan damaged historical artifacts in the construction area. The price was a whopping $370 billion won, about $350 million. All of this created plenty of traffic disruption; Lee tried to improve these with a new system of bus lanes that failed so miserably he had to make a public apology.

Not surprisingly, Lee fiercely opposed plans to relocate the capital out of Seoul, and his opposition made him a bitter and personal enemy of President Roh Moo Hyun and his party:

When Lee joked with reporters that he might call out the military to prevent a move, the Uri party pounced on his statement and tried to link him with the authoritarian politicians he fought against as a student.

“The mayor acts as if he is a person of the 21st century, but the remark shows how deeply he was devoted to anti-democracy and anti-parliamentarian elements of a dictatorial period,” Uri spokeswoman Kim Hyun-mee said.

Lee can give as good as he gets:

He calls President Roh Moo Hyun’s government “amateurs who don’t have the capacity and experience needed to run a country.”

. . . .

Lee has condemned what he calls Roh’s “politically motivated scheme” to “split the capital and win votes” outside Seoul for his party.

International Issues

Lee’s record on international issues is harder to assess, because it doesn’t appear that he either cares or speaks about them very much unless they are directly related to economic issues.Lee’s plans for bringing foreign investment into Seoul have in fact won international recognition.His love of public works projects (and perhaps his naked ambition to appeal to younger voters) showed when he proposed turning the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison into a (roll eyes now) frigging peace park after the U.S. hands it over to the Korean government.

One might expect someone with long ties to the Hyundai Group to be more supportive of using trade and engagement to gradually transform the North.Lee doesn’t appear to believe in the viability of that approach, even if the self-serving context is suspect:

“The reunification of Korea is not so far away,” he said through an interpreter. “If you take into account that fact it would be rather absurd to relocate the capital south of Seoul both of in terms of politics and diplomacy.”

South Korean officials tend to say unification is not around the corner — not least because the cost of reuniting the two halves of a peninsula divided for 50 years would be huge. But Lee pointed to the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s costly and hasty unification less than a year later.

“The reunification of Germany took place unexpectedly and in very difficult circumstances,” said Lee. “That might be the case for Korea in the future. But still, as for now it would not be appropriate to get into details.”

What I can’t find is so much as one solitary utterance about human rights in the North.

No ambitious Korean politician could pass up the opportunity to bait the Japanese, and Tokyo’s racist loudmouth Governor Shintaro Ishihara recently proved himself an ideal sparring partner. But watch Lee’s appeal to red-meat nationalism squirm uneasily around his fear of upsetting the investors:

Seoul City mayor Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday gave his Tokyo counterpart Shintaro Ishihara quid pro quo for labeling President Roh Moo-hyun’s criticism of Japan “third-rate politics. “If our politics are third rate, then Ishihara’s must be fourth and fifth rate. . . .Anybody can criticize our politics, except Japan’s extreme right.

“Japan needs to apologize for the mistakes of its past and contribute to mutual prosperity in Asia and human happiness. The mayor said rudeness aimed at a national leader “can threaten bilateral ties,” adding, “I call on Ishihara to reflect on his rash comments that break with international custom.

At a press conference later, Lee said he spoke out of concern for the national interest rather than to lend the president political support. “The economic and cultural cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo should not suffer, but if Japan continues to behave like this, it may have an influence,” Lee added.

Social Issues

Socially, Lee is about as paleocon as they come, even for conservative, Confucio-evangelical Korea. Here is what I (and plenty of others) consider his oddest moment:

As a devoted Presbyterian senior, he recently attended a religious meeting in Seoul and publicly said he was offering the city of Seoul to Almighty God in his capacity as Seoul mayor.

Such a message drew widespread and vehement criticism from members of non-Christian community across the country as well as Seoul citizens and civic groups.

Political observers said that such a comment was highly calculated and aimed at the forthcoming presidential elections. The Christian community in Korea exercises tremendous influence on local politics.

This crosses the line between governing according to religious-based principles that shape our public morality and rank sectarianism–hardly a temperate comment in a nation that remains 40% Buddhist, Confucianist, and “miscellaneus. More recently, Lee appointed himself guardian of the pubic morals by promising to send the cops to shut down “sexy dance contests,” thus threatening to make war against one of the universe’s last dwindling business models for completely harmless fun.

Ethical Troubles

Lee Myung-Bak’s ethical reputation is checkered, although some of the charges mirror the impeachment charge against Roh Moo Hyun in their hypertechnical pettiness. He was charged but acquitted of election law violations in 2003 for engaging in partisan campaigning before the official start of the election season. Similar charges had been levied against him in the past. More damaging are charges that he has used public funds to promote his own political goals. Lee has been accused of using taxpayer funds to buy up thousands of copies of “World Village,” a product from the publishers of “The Monthly Chosun,” in consideration for the latter’s favorable press coverage. He was accused of using taxpayer funds to bring sympathetic journalists along on a junket to Europe, an accusation that briefly resulted in Mayor Lee being barred from his city’s own press room. He was also said to have used public funds to support a political rally against moving the capital out of Seoul.

Photo Creds: 1. Seoul Times; 2. unknown; 3. The Flying Yangban!; 4. CTS TV.


  1. Dear Myung Back Lee for president.


    In my opinion, the Korean people must vote first whoever their candidate is. If Mr. Myung Bak Lee is elected, he should be investigated and follow the results it he was wrong. we must have a good and clean government. These candidates should be also checked if any of them has questionable records.

    I would like to point out important aspects of my national defense policy.

    Needless to say our country is still separated North and South.

    We all pray that unified happy days’ one Korea would come to us sooner.

    Meantime, I wish you to know that our country owes very much to other United Nations members during the Korea War who came to save our lives and our South Korea.

    Now we are prosperous because of our hard work and the early days’ friendly economic aids from United States and other countries. We never foreget their humanitarian aids given to us when we were in the communist mascara and in agony. We thank you for the people of the friendly nations that helped us. Seventeen nations come to help us. Especially the United States sent largest army among them suffered largest number of casualties. We thank American people sanctified for us so much.

    I believe time has come for us to help other people in hardship of war and disasters.

    Now I have a dream to reflect our historic national experiences as a form of the national morality to international community as a civilized nation.

    Now we become an economically strong among the advanced nations. We have to try to pay back our debts of love and peace to other nations.

    One way to do is to send our people to help other people in disaster of other lands. This mission is humanitarian mission to help the needy people because they helped us when we suffered during the cruel Korean War.

    Our Korean army fought bravely against the enemies. We thank them.

    In a way, the Korean military force could act as humanitarian army for peace and love for international relief tasks.

    Now Koreans become respectable as we can pay back our debts to other people. So that we could maintain the national prosperity and international peace. To do these we need a strong and humanitarian army for us all.

    We need a strong national army to accomplish our people’s goal.

    Thank you again for those who helped us during the war and peace. Merry Christmas Happy a new year.

    We thank you them

    UN member nations

    Sincerely yours,

    Chae S. Sone

    2 Woodbury Court

    Hicksville, NY 11801


  2. Dear Editors:

    Special Protection needed for the Korean President-elect Myung Bak Lee and other political leaders from the political enemies.

    Greetings in the Christmas season.

    I am appreciative your report on the Korean President-elect Myung Bak Lee. Korea should be happy to have a hardworking new president.

    According to a news report this morning, the opposition Pakistan Leader Benazir Bhutto is assassinated at a political rally.

    In the light of this tragic news, I wish to remind the Editors that your office should warn the South Korean public and the government officers to re-enforce the existing protection plan for the Korean political leaders from the radicals, political enemies, communists or mentally deranged elements in the society in this emotional political season, especially the President-elect Myung Bak Lee down to the National Assembly leaders in action are needed a special protection.

    At this emotionally hate filled political season, a heavy responsibilities to keep law and order are on the shoulders of the government officers and the hate mongers. The South Korea should not forget that she still needs to keep the watchful eyes to North Korean communists until they really reveal a sincere political reconciliation and abandon the hostile policy to the South as the North still is on the record as an enemy.

    The South Korea needs strong support from the free presses like yours to have a better government under the new leadership in coming days, moths and years.

    The South should be a model nation to the free world which created by the help of the member nations of UN after defeating the communist aggression.

    She needs the continued advice and support of the free press so that Koreans can have an ideal, clean, good and strong government.

    May God bless you all.

    Chae S. Sone
    Hicksville, New York, USA


  3. Mad cowed assemblymen
    The Korean people want to be free from the mad cow riots. It reminds Rousseau’s statement. “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is chains.” In this social condition, he proposed an idea of a representative government. So the citizens send their elected representatives to the parliament to present the voice of the people to find solutions for the problems.
    Now in Korea, the government is a representative democratic system, A national assemblyman is representing the citizens in his own district; he should presents the voice of the constituents to formulate their political fate according to the consensus of the parliament.
    Under the present circumstances, the national assemblymen from opposition parties are boycotting the assembly to prevent the opening of the new assembly. Thus, the opposition leaders are neglecting their own duties to represent the people. In other words, they abandoned their position as the representatives of the people. Outside the parliament, they do not have a legitimate voice or a forum. If they have legitimate disagreement with the beef Import, they should come to tell their opinion to the national assembly. They are trying to paralyze the function of the government.
    Thus, their very action is destructive to it and disqualified their representation- A reverse course to the parliamentary system.
    It is questionable if the government authority has the power to dismiss the opposition disobedient assembly members. If so, it should oust them and let the people have a new election for their own true representation. Otherwise the society can not stand in peace under the status of “misgivings.” Needless to say the benefits of KorUSFTA.
    Even if they had disagreement on the beef import, they should have convened the assembly even during the demonstration.
    Moreover, they knew that UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon will visit Korea. They should have prepared in a advance to receive him, according to the established diplomatic protocol.
    But, they seemed to have ignored their status as the assemblymen, just they tried to snub the Lee Myung Bak government in malice.
    However, the opposition leaders actually snubbed themselves as if spitting into each other’s face. What an uninformed, shameful action?
    They should have known that
    UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon should have been respectably welcomed, as an international dignitary, to the assembly. But they failed miserably as they violated their protocol in the occasion. Thus, the Korean people scarred themselves, as if their representatives were ignorant derelicts.
    They misrepresented Koreans’ image to the world.
    The Koreans must know that the South Korea was able to preserve its tiny territory because the people of UN member nations scarified their lives to save South from the communist aggressors.
    But they missed the great opportunity to express the Korean gratitude to the Secretary who represents the member nations. Because of their misrepresentation, Korean people ashamed of themselves because of the derelict representation.
    The Secretary is a proud Korean citizen. Thus, the Korean people are considered to be honored so much in the international seen because of his statue.
    Imagine if these mobs had taken over the legitimate government in riots, what would happen to the people? Their suffering would be much worse than the mad cow ghosts can give.
    Remember the procommunist demonstrators that your mentor Kim Jong Il is evolving into Gorvachev Kim. You do not have any other place to go now but Myanmar or Zimbabwe. Korea should keep up its pace according to the change of East Asian political scene. The denuclearization is US and our victory.
    The opposition leaders and demonstrators owe an
    apology to the nation. Especially the undignified religious leaders should be ashamed of their subnormal spirituality, joining the senseless mad cowed demonstrators against the very new government that you did not give a honeymoon period. Don’t you think you are mad cowed? – think over where to go from here?

    Wake up! Stay on the line of law and order! Eat beef, work harder, Korea will be beautiful for ever. It’s yours.