Lee Myung-bak

Lee Myung-bak
Lee Myung-bak
17th President of South Korea
Assumed office
25 February 2008
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo
Chung Un-chan
Kim Hwang-sik
Preceded by Roh Moo-hyun
Mayor of Seoul
In office
1 July 2002 – 30 June 2006
Preceded by Goh Kun
Succeeded by Oh Se-hoon
Member of the 15th National Assembly of the Republic of Korea for the electoral district of Jongno-gu
In office
30 May 1996 – 21 February 1998
Preceded by Lee Jong-chan
Succeeded by Roh Moo-hyun
Member of the 14th National Assembly of the Republic of Korea
In office
30 May 1992 – 29 May 1996
Personal details
Born 19 December 1941 (1941-12-19) (age 69)
Osaka, Japan
Nationality South Korean
Political party Grand National Party
Spouse(s) Kim Yoon-ok
Children Lee Joo-yeon
Lee Seung-yeon
Lee Soo-yeon
Lee Si-hyung
Alma mater Korea University
Profession Businessman
Religion Christianity
Korean name
Hangul 이명박
Revised Romanization I Myeongbak
McCune–Reischauer Yi Myŏngbak
Pen name
Hangul 일송
Revised Romanization Ilsong
McCune–Reischauer Ilsong
Japanese name:
Akihiro Tsukiyama (?)[1]

Lee Myung-bak (pronounced /ˌliː ˌmjʌŋ ˈbɑːk/, Korean: [i mjʌŋbak̚]; born 19 December 1941) is the President of South Korea. Prior to his presidency, he was the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction and the mayor of Seoul. He is married to Kim Yoon-ok and has three daughters and one son. His older brother is Lee Sang-deuk, a South Korean politician. He attends the Somang Presbyterian Church.[2] He received a honorary degree from Paris Diderot University on May 13, 2011[3].

Lee altered the South Korean government's approach to North Korea, preferring a more hardline strategy in the wake of increased provocations from the North, but is also supportive of regional dialogue with Russia, China, and Japan. Under Lee, South Korea weathered the Global Financial Crisis and has emerged as a major player on the international scene through hosting the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit.


Early life and education

Lee Myung-bak was born on December 19, 1941 in Osaka, Japan. The Lee family had emigrated to Japan following the Japanese annexation of Korean Empire. His father, Lee Chung-u (이충우; 李忠雨), was employed as a farm hand on a cattle ranch in Japan, and his mother, Chae Taewon (채태원; 蔡太元) was a housewife. Lee is the fifth of seven children, with three brothers and three sisters. After the end of World War II in 1945, his family returned to his father's hometown of Pohang, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea.[4][5] Lee's sister, Lee Ki-sun, made it known that they smuggled themselves into the country in order to avoid the property they acquired in Japan being confiscated by the officials. However, because the ship they took was wrecked off the coast of Tsushima island they lost all their belongings after all and the family barely survived.[6]

Lee attended night school at Dongji Commercial High School in Pohang, at the time he received a scholarship. A year after graduation, Lee gained admission to Korea University. In 1964, during his third year in college, Lee was elected president of the student council. That year, Lee participated in student demonstrations against President Park Chung-hee's Seoul-Tokyo Talks taking issue with Japanese restitution for the colonization of the Korean peninsula. He was charged with plotting insurrection and was sentenced to five years probation and three years of imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Korea. He served a little under three months of his term at the Seodaemun prison in Seoul.[7]

In his autobiography Lee writes that he was dismissed from Korea's mandatory military service due to a diagnosis of acute bronchiectasis while at the Nonsan Training Facility.

Business career

In 1965, Lee started to work at Hyundai Construction which was awarded Korea's first-ever overseas construction, a $5.2 million contract to build the Pattani-Narathiwat Highway in Thailand. Despite being a new employee, Lee was sent to Thailand to participate in the project. The project was successfully completed in March 1968, and Lee returned to Korea and was subsequently given charge of Hyundai's heavy machinery plant in Seoul.[8]

It was during his three decades with the Hyundai Group that Lee earned the nickname "Bulldozer". In one instance, he completely dismantled a malfunctioning bulldozer to study its mechanics and figure out how to repair it.[citation needed]

Lee became a company director at the age of 29 – just five years after he joined the company – and CEO at age 35, becoming Korea's youngest CEO ever. In 1988, he was named the chairman of Hyundai Construction at the age of 47.[8]

When he started at Hyundai in 1965, it had 90 employees; when he left as chairman after 27 years, it had more than 160,000.[9] Soon after the successful completion of the Pattani-Narathiwat Highway by Hyundai Construction, Korea's construction industry began to focus their efforts on encouraging the creation of new markets in countries such as Vietnam and the Middle East. Following the decline of construction demands from Vietnam in the 60s, Hyundai construction turned their eyes toward the Middle East and continued to be a major player in construction projects, with the successful completion of such vital international projects as the Arab Shipbuilding & Repair Yard, the Diplomatic Hotel in Bahrain and the Jubail Industrial Harbor Projects in Saudi Arabia, also known as 'the great history of the 20th century'. At that time, the amount of orders received by the Korean construction company exceeded US$10 billion and this contributed in overcoming the national crisis resulting from the oil shock. [6]

After leaving Hyundai at the end of a 27-year career, he decided to enter politics.

Early political career

In 1992 Lee made the transition from business to politics. He joined the Democratic Liberal Party instead of the Unification National Party, founded by Chung Ju-yung. He was elected as a member of the 14th Korean National Assembly (for Proportional representation). Upon being elected, he stated that he ran because "after watching Mikhail Gorbachev change the world climate I wanted to see if there was anything I could do."[5] In 1995, he ran for the City of Seoul's mayoral election, but during the primary of the Democratic Liberal Party, former prime minister Chung Won-sik was selected as the candidate.

In 1996, Lee was re-elected as a member of the Korean National Assembly. He represented Jongno-gu in Seoul. At the election, one of his opponents was another future president, Roh Moo-hyun. Roh was ranked 3rd place.

After he became a second-term lawmaker, it was disclosed that he had spent excessively in his election campaign. He resigned in 1998 before being fined 4 million won for breaking election law.[10] In the by-election that was held after his resignation, Roh Moo-hyun was elected as his successor.

Mayor of Seoul

[citation needed]

Cheonggyecheon at night

In 2002, Lee ran for mayor of Seoul and won. However, he was fined for beginning election activities too early.[citation needed] Lee was acquitted of the two-year prison sentence sought by prosecutors. During his tenure as mayor, he was noted for the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon, a popular stream in Seoul. It is often said as successful restoration by supporters of Lee Myung Bak.

As the Mayor of Seoul Lee's most ostensible projects include the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, the creation of Seoul Forest, the opening of Seoul Forest Park, the construction of a grassy field in front of Seoul City Hall, and the addition of rapid transit buses to the city's transportation system.[8][11][12][13] Lee also worked to transform the area around Seoul City Hall from a concrete traffic circle to a lawn where people can gather. The 2002 World Cup showed how the area could be used as a cultural space that came to be known as Seoul Plaza. In May 2004, the tape was cut to open a newly built park in the area, a grassy field where Seoul residents could come to relax and take in cultural performances.[8] The major accomplishment during his term as a Mayor of Seoul would be the restoration of Cheonggyecheon. With his unremitting drive, the stream now flowed through the heart of Seoul and turned the place into a modern public recreation space. Citizens of Seoul were not the only ones that heaped praise on President Lee. In May 2006, Asian Times reported that "Seoul, once synonymous with 'concrete jungle,' has achieved successful transformation of its face into a green oasis and now it is inculcating upon other Asian cities with the love of environment", inserting the picture of Lee standing ankle-deep in the waters of Cheonggyecheon stream. Moreover, in October 2007, President Lee was chosen as a 'Hero of the Environment' in Time magazine along with former U.S. vice president, Al Gore.

Presidential election

On May 10, 2007, Lee officially declared his intention to run for the Grand National Party as its presidential candidate. On August 20, 2007, he defeated Park Geun-hye in the GNP's primary to become its nominee for the 2007 Presidential election. During the primary, Lee was accused of profiting from illegal speculation on land owned in Dogok-dong, an expensive ward in Seoul.[14] However, on August 2007, the prosecutors said in the interim announcement that "We do suspect Lee's brother's claim over the land in Dogok-dong, but have failed to verify the real owner of the asset".[15] On September 28, 2007, the prosecutory authority officially dropped the suspicion that the Dogok land is under a borrowed-name announcing that "We have done all necessary investigations including tracing the proceeds from the sale of the land and call history and now got to the bottom of this case."[16] In Dec 2007, a few days before the Presidential election, Lee announced that he would donate all of his assets to society.[17]

His stated goals were expressed in the "747 Plan" and included: 7% annual growth in GDP, $40,000 USD per capita, and making Korea the world's seventh largest economy. An important part of his platform was the Grand Korean Waterway (한반도 대운하) project from Busan to Seoul, which he believes will lead to an economic revival. His political opponents criticized that the project was unrealistic and too costly to be realized. Others were concerned of possible negative environmental impact.

Signaling a departure from his previous views on North Korea, Lee announced a plan to "engage" North Korea through investment. Lee promised to form a consultative body with the North to discuss furthering economic ties. The body would have subcommittees on the economy, education, finance, infrastructure and welfare, and a cooperation fund of $40 billion. He promised to seek a Korean Economic Community agreement to establish the legal and systemic framework for any projects emerging from the negotiations. Lee also called for forming an aid office in North Korea as a way of decoupling humanitarian aid from nuclear talks.[18]

His foreign policy initiative was called MB Doctrine,[19] which advocates "engaging" North Korea and strengthening the US-Korean alliance.

The BBK Scandal and Kim Kyung-joon

During the 2007 presidential election, questions about his relationship with a company called BBK were raised. In 1999, Lee set up several companies for electronic financial services. During this time, he met Kim Kyung-joon. Lee established the LKE Bank with Kim Kyung-joon but this enterprise went bankrupt less than a year later and 5,500 investors lost substantial amounts of money. Supposed BBK co-founder Kim Kyung-joon was investigated for large-scale embezzlement and stock price-fixing schemes. Kim Kyung-joon had initially stated that Lee was not involved with the company, and Lee himself denied being associated with BBK, claiming that he had never held even a single share in it.

Kim Hong-il of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office cleared Lee of any wrongdoing, but three days before the election, a video of a speech Lee gave to students at Kwangwoon University in October 2000 surfaced, in which Lee "bragged" that he had founded and directed BBK activities.[20] Two days before the election, the National Assembly appointed a special prosecutor to investigate.[21]

Special Investigator Chung Ho-young declared Lee innocent of accusations related to fraud and the BBK. Critics suggested that investigators may have felt too intimidated to delve too deeply into the case, as they interviewed Lee in a restaurant in Seoul that was once a kisaeng house.[22] In contrast, the special prosecutor team announced that the initially-planned interview location was leaked to the media so it urgently decided to do the interview at another location, a Korean restaurant away from the city.They also declared that they were fully prepared and the amount of time allocated for the investigation was sufficient.[23]

Eventually, prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence and a fine of 30 billion won for former BBK owner Kim Kyung-joon on charges of stock manipulation and embezzlement. In the final hearing held at the Seoul Central District Court, the prosecutors said Kim, who founded and operated the boiler-room operation is suspected of crimes including embezzlement of W31.9 billion of investors' money, stock manipulation, and the forgery and execution of private documents but had shown no remorse nor repaid his debts.

Earlier, Kim Ki-dong, a prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, said, "This is a case in which an individual person has made a mockery of the Republic of Korea."[24] For spreading "false" rumors about Lee on the eve of the presidential election, the Seoul Central District Court convicted Kim of violating the nation's election law, handing down a one-year prison term. He was given another six months for document forgery to back his attacks on Lee.[25] Kim admitted in the end that President Lee had nothing to do with the BBK scandal and that he tried to avoid the criminal liability by manipulating the circumstance Korea was in.[26] Prosecutors said in a statement that Kim had been changing the story with endless lies throughout the whole investigation process, making it extremely hard for them to draw up the protocol.

He even denied their request to use a lie detector. Prosecutors added by saying, "Kim's defense attorney also made a false statement by saying those who testified against Kim were all liars and committing perjury. This, in fact, is a contradictory statement to the Attorneys-at-Law and attorney ethics".[27]

Some of the prosecutors who worked on the case were promoted under Lee's presidency. Meanwhile, the USA court judged that Kim was free from all kinds of prosecutions regarding BBK[citation needed].


Presidential styles of
Lee Myung-bak
Seal of the President of the Republic of Korea.svg
Reference style His Excellency President Lee Myung-bak
Spoken style President of Republic of South Korea
Alternative style Mr. President
Lee shakes hands with United States President George W. Bush upon his arrival at Camp David, Maryland, United States, April 18, 2008

In spite of the lowest voter turnout ever for a presidential election in South Korea, Lee won the presidential election in December 2007 with 48.7% of the vote which was considered to be a landslide.[28][29][30] He took the oath of office February 25, 2008, vowing to revitalize the economy, strengthen relations with the United States and "deal with" North Korea.[31] Specifically, Lee declared that he would pursue a campaign of “global diplomacy” and seek further cooperative exchanges with regional neighbors Japan, China, and Russia. Furthermore, he pledged to strengthen South Korea-United States relations and implement a tougher policy with regards to North Korea, ideas that are promoted as the MB Doctrine.

Lee stated that he wanted to restore better relations with the United States through a greater emphasis on free market solutions.[32][33]

Two months after his inauguration, Lee's approval ratings stood at 28%,[34] and by June 2008 they had reached 17%.[35] Bush and Lee also discussed the ratification of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement or KORUS FTA, which faces opposition from legislators in both countries. While it was expected that Lee's agreement during the summit to partially lift the ban on US beef imports would remove the obstacles in approving the KORUS FTA in the US,[36] many Koreans protested the resumption of U.S. beef imports.[37]

As protests escalated, the Korean government issued a statement warning that violent protesters would be punished and measures would be taken to stop clashes between police and protesters. The protest continued for more than two months and the original purpose of the candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports has been replaced by others, such as opposition to the privatization of public companies, education policy, construction of the Canal. The damages caused by protesters to the businesses around the demonstration and the social cost reached approximately 3,751,300,000,000 won.[38]

Eventually, support for the protesters waned amongst the general public.[39] According to the Wall Street Journal, Lee's plan to privatize public companies was a modest but "perhaps important step" toward reform.[40]

As the government gained more stability, the approval rating of Lee's administration rose to 32.8%. Since the resumption of U.S. beef imports, more people are buying U.S. beef and now it has the second largest market share in Korea, after Australian beef.[41][42]

Lee's approval ratings have reflected public perception of Korea's economic situation in the wake of the global economic meltdown. Signs of a strengthening economy and a landmark $40 billion deal won by a Korean consortium to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates have boosted Lee's popularity. His approval rating in January, 2010 stood at 51.6%.[43]

Former president, Kim Young-sam had expressed negative outlooks on Lee Myung-bak's role as the president and his influence between South Korea and Japan according to a Wikileaks file.[44] As of late 2011, Lee's administration has had a series of corruption allegations surrounding certain high ranking government employees.[45]

Education policy

The Lee administration has introduced a tailor-made educational system, and established the National Scholarship Foundation that offers services such as student loan and loan counseling. In addition, the government is currently promoting an income contingency pay-later plan in order to help out those struggling to pay tuition fees.[46]

Teachers have been highly critical of these changes, arguing that Lee wants to turn Korean education into a "free market" while ignoring the underfunding of education in regions outside the Seoul area.[47] However, the government designated 82 well-performing high schools in rural areas as 'public boarding school' and granted funds amounting to 317 billion won in total, 3.8 billion won each on average.[48]

Moreover, the Lee Myung-bak government plans to use a pool of young Korean Americans for the promotion of after-school English education in public schools in rural areas with an aim to improve the quality of education.[49] Prior to assuming the presidency, Lee's transition team announced it would implement a nationwide English-immersion program in order to provide students with the language tools necessary to be successful in a highly globalized world. Under this program, all classes would have been taught in English by 2010. However, Lee abandoned the program after facing strong opposition from parents, teachers, and education specialists.[50] Currently, he is trying to implement a program where all English courses in middle and secondary schools will be taught in English only. This will require the government to educate many teachers in Korea and recruit university students studying abroad in English-speaking countries.

All schools in Gyeonggi Province will hold English-language classes in English only starting 2011, and every school in the province will have native speakers as teaching assistants by 2010. However, in 2011, Gyeonggi province held a hiring freeze, which eliminated over 40% of English teachers in the province. This project is aimed at teaching students to be comfortable speaking with English-speaking foreigners without taking extra classes at private institutions.

As part of an employment test starting 2008, applicants have to demonstrate their ability to conduct a class only in the language. Some schools with native-speaking teaching assistants will start so-called English immersion classes from 2008.[51]

Economic policy

Mbnomics is the term applied to Lee's macroeconomic policy.[52] The term is a portmanteau derived by combining initials of Myung-bak (Mb) and the term economics (-nomics) to form "Mbnomics".

Kang Man-Soo, the Minister of Strategy and Finance, is credited with the creation and design of Mbnomics.[53]

The centerpiece of Lee's economic revitalization is his "Korea 7·4·7" plan. The plan takes its names from its goals: bring 7% economic growth during his term, raise Korea's per capita income to US$40,000, and make Korea the world's seventh largest economy. As Lee puts it, his government is mandated with creating a new Korea where "the people are affluent, society is warm and the state strong." To do this, he plans to follow a pragmatic, market-friendly strategy: Smart Market Economy, Empirical Pragmatism, Democratic Activism.[8]

Nowadays, Lee wanted to move to low-carbon growth in coming decades. The government hopes to be a bridge between rich and poor countries in fighting global warming by setting itself 2020 goals for greenhouse gas emissions.[54] In connection with the recent financial shock from the United States, President Lee emphasized the importance of solid cooperation between political and business circles. Lee also proposed a tripartite meeting among the finance ministers of South Korea, Japan, and China aimed at coordinating policies to cope with the credit crisis.[55]

Mbnomics around early 2011 has taken a negative reputation due to tax reduction plans for the rich, and the failure to privatize or merge national banks, and provide affordable housing.[56] The middle age and senior Korean population usually supports Lee Myung-bak. However, the businesspeople in their 50s-60s who in the construction and real estate sectors has lost supports of the Lee Myung-bak after the 2010 regional election and in the future 2012 presidential election.[57]

Oh Geon-ho (오건호), the head Public Policy Institute for People criticized parts of Mbnomics as "over-financing big private companies" and "worsening the fiscal state of the country".[58]

On September 7th, 2011, the Blue House officially scrapped the plans for rich tax deduction; marked the foundational end of Mbnomics.[59]


The Grand Korean Waterway, officially known as the Pan Korea Grand Waterway, is a proposed 540-kilometer (340 mi) long canal connecting Seoul and Busan, two of South Korea's largest cities. The canal would run diagonally across the country connecting the Han River, which flows through Seoul into the Yellow Sea, to the Nakdong River, which flows through Busan into the Korea Strait. The proposed canal would be 540 kilometers in length and traverse difficult mountainous terrain.

Hong Jong-ho, an economist at Hanyang University, has claimed that the Grand Korean Waterway would create an “environmental disaster” that would worsen flooding and pollute the two rivers that supply drinking water for two-thirds of the country's population[citation needed]. He also said the waterway would be the most expensive construction project in South Korean history, costing as much as $50 billion. Some studies suggest that the Grand canal project, once completed, will block the source of affected water into the river and the dredging will remove the polluted sediments from the river bed which eventually will result in greater water quality, improving self-purification function of the river and facilitating the restoration of the ecosystem[citation needed].

Few opponents of the project argue that during the construction process, damage to the environment could be caused by the concrete facility. However, one study states that when environmentally-friendly methods of construction (like 'swamp-restoration') are adopted that there will be a net positive effect (such as improving the Han River).[60] Buddhist groups have voiced fears that it would submerge nearby Buddhist relics,[61] which would cause irreparable damage to a significant portion of Korea's cultural legacy.[62] On the other hand, some say that once the Kyungboo Canal is developed, another 177 cultural assets could be discovered during excavations, which could be used for tourist attraction. In particular, the development of the Canal will increase the accessibility to cultural assets that are far to reach, and hence more efficient management of those assets would be possible.[63] Lee's promise to build the Grand Korean Waterway has stalled due to low public opinion.[64]

If successful, Lee maintains his plan, which would include dredging and other measures to improve Korea's waterways, decreasing water pollution, and bringing economic benefits to local communities to name a few. Speaking in 2005 about the project, Lee said, "Many journalists questioned me why I keep commenting on the building of the canal. However, it's a simple fact that many cities around the world were benefited by making the best use of their rivers and seas."[8] At a special conference held on June 19, 2008 President Lee announced that he will drop the Grand Canal project if the public opposes to the idea and the premier confirmed this statement on September 8, 2008.[65] Despite this assurance, many now accuse Lee of continuing the Canal plan under the guise of "Maintenance of the 4 Great Rivers (4대강 정비사업)."

The Four Major Rivers Project

The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project of is a multi-purpose green growth project on the Han River (Korea), Nakdong River, Geum River and Yeongsan River in South Korea. The project was spearheaded by current South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and was declared complete on October 21, 2011. The restoration project's aims were to provide or improve water security, prevent flood control, and restore ecosystem vitality. It was first announced as part of the “Green New Deal” policy launched in January 2009, and was later included in the government's five-year national plan in July 2009. The government estimated its full investment and funding totaled 22.2 trillion won (Approximately 17.3 billion USD).


Office Name Term
President Lee Myung-bak 2008-
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo 2008–2009
Chung Un-chan 2009–2010
Kim Hwang-sik 2010–
Minister for Strategy and Finance Kang Man-soo 2008–2009
Yun Jeung-hyeon 2009-
Minister for Education and Science Technology Kim Do-yeon 2008
An Byeong-man 2008–2010
Lee Ju-ho 2010-
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan 2008–2010
Kim Sung-hwan 2010-
Minister for Unification Kim Ha-jung 2008–2009
Hyun In-taek 2009-
Minister for Justice Kim Kyung-han 2008–2009
Lee Kwi-nam 2009-
Minister for National Defence Lee Sang-hee 2008–2009
Kim Tae-young 2009–2010
Kim Kwan-jin 2010-
Minister for Public Administration and Security Won Sei-hoon 2008–2009
Lee Dal-gon 2009–2010
Maeng Hyung-kyu 2010-
Minister for Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu In-chon 2008–2011
Choung Byoung-gug 2010-
Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chung Woon-chun 2008
Chang Tae-pyung 2008–2010
Yoo Jeong-bok 2010-
Minister for Knowledge Economy Lee Youn-ho 2008–2009
Choi Kyung-hwan 2009–2011
Choi Joong-kyung 2011-
Minister for Health and Welfare and Family Affairs Kim Soung-yee 2008
Jun Jae-hee 2008–2010
Minister for Health and Welfare Jun Jae-hee 2010
Chin Soo-hee 2010-
Minister for Environment Lee Maan-ee 2008-
Minister for Labor Lee Young-hee 2008–2009
Yim Tae-hee 2009–2010
Minister for Employment and Labor Yim Tae-hee 2010
Bahk Jae-wan 2010-
Minister for Gender Equality Byun Do-yoon 2008–2009
Paik Hee-young 2009–2010
Minister for Gender Equality and Family Paik Hee-young 2010-
Minister for Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Chung Jong-hwan 2008-
Minister for Special Affairs Joo Ho-young 2009–2010
Yi Jae-oh 2010-

Lee Myung-bak has faced strong criticism over his choice of political appointees: many of whom are wealthy. The concern is that Lee's appointees will favor policies that protect the rich while failing to address the needs of the underprivileged. Another criticism is that these appointees have been mostly chosen from the nation's southeast region (Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do), which is known as a GNP stronghold.[66]

While the fact that the property owned by high officials including ministers has increased on average, most of them were legally obtained and inherited property. Those ministers involved in the allegation of illegal real-estate speculation were already replaced. Hence, the average property owned by the three replaced ministers were only 1.7 billion won.[67] In order to set aside the alleged regional bias, Lee's first cabinet appointment procedure faithfully abided by the principles and rules by appointing 4 from Seoul and Yeongnam district, 3 from Honam, Gangwon, and Chungcheong province, and 1 from North Korea.[68]

Moreover, Lee's administration increased the welfare budget by 9% to help the poorest maintain the living and middle class's stability, and is pursuing many more policies for the benefit of the public than the former government.[69] Lee's administration further claims that the tax reforms undertaken including the comprehensive property tax cut is not to benefit the wealthy and the haves but to correct a wrongful tax according to the market principle.[70] Lee has also had to face corruption charges leveled at his administration. Three appointees have already resigned amid suspicions of corruption. And Lee’s top intelligence chief and anticorruption aide face accusations that they received bribes from The Samsung Group. Both Samsung and Lee denied the charges.[71]

Those involved in the allegation of receiving bribes from Samsung group have been cleared of charges after special prosecutory investigation.[72]

Lee on July 7, 2008 named Ahn Byong-man, a presidential advisor for state future planning, as his new minister of education, science and technology. Jang Tae-pyoung, a former secretary general of the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption, becomes minister of food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and Grand National Party lawmaker Jeon Jae-hee minister of health, welfare and family affairs. In addition, Lee gave Prime Minister Han Seung-soo another chance in the belief that no proper working conditions have been provided for the Cabinet due to many pending issues since the inauguration of the new administration.[73]

Foreign policy

United States President Barack Obama and Lee walking after a meeting at the Blue House in Seoul in November 2010.

Lee is widely considered pro-U.S.[74] In mid-April 2008, Lee traveled to the United States for his first official overseas visit to meet with US President George W. Bush at the White House and Camp David. Lee's more aggressive approach towards North Korea was described as a welcome change for Bush,[75] who was often at odds with Roh Moo-hyun.[76] For a decade, what some people criticized as the former government's controversial and endless handing out of massive aid to North Korea, in the name of the 'National Coexistence, Independence' has failed to effectuate change in the North. The former government neglected the discussion on the nuclear issue with the North during the summit twice and struck a mass aid deal without any sort of social consensus and examination on the ways and means of the funding, which some say created an unnecessary burden to the Korean people.

The government's stance towards North Korea is not to violate the agreement made between the heads of the two Koreas but to mull over the economic feasibility and realizable possibility through negotiation based on mutual trust and respect, and prioritizing going forward with the project.[77]

During a press conference, the two leaders expressed hope that North Korea would disclose the details of their nuclear weapons program, and pledged their commitment to resolve the issue through the multilateral Six-party talks.[78] Lee also gave assurances that both the U.S. and South Korea would use dialogue to end the crisis.

Lee is known for maintaining an intimate friendship with U.S. President Barack Obama.[79] Despite Lee's wavering support at home, Lee's leadership was lauded by Barack Obama at the 2009 G-20 London summit, where Obama called South Korea "[one of America's] closest allies and greatest friends." Obama and Lee agreed on a need "for a stern, united response from the international community" in light of North Korea's efforts toward a threatened satellite launch. Lee accepted an invitation by Obama to visit the United States on June 16, 2009.[80] President Obama will host President Lee for a day-long state visit and a state dinner on Thursday, October 13, 2011.[81]

Lee has also played a role in bringing about the normalization of South Korea's relations with Russia. Furthermore, Lee has built relationships with foreign leaders, including former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen,[82] former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.[citation needed]

US beef imports

On April 18, 2008, Lee's administration agreed on resumption of U.S. beef imports. Previously, Korea had banned U.S. beef after a cow infected with BSE that had originated from Canada was found in Washington state.[29][83] Fears that US beef imports in South Korea in relation to the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement would cause Mad Cow disease infected beef to be imported to South Korea came to a boil in the summer of 2008.

Ten days after the deal was formally signed, MBC’s current affairs program “PD Diary” aired a multi-part episode entitled “U.S. beef, is it safe from mad cow disease?” It was reported by MBC that Koreans carry a gene making them more susceptible to mad cow disease than Americans. This claim has been retracted since by MBC.[84][85] MBC further devoted 15 out of 25 other news slots to publicizing the issue showing images of downer cows from England and U.S., and reporting information such as claiming that vCJD is easily transmittable through blood transfusions, by eating instant noodles containing beef products, using cosmetics made with cow derived collagen, etc.. [86] People's roar in an Internet community, Agora, also helped demonstrations to demand the renegotiation of the terms of the import deal. .[84]

As public anger continued to snowball, citizen started public demonstrations. On many nights, the rallies turned into confrontations with the violent police. When candles had burned out and children had gone home with their parents, many protesters were often attacked by riot-control policemen.[84]

In an interview, Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun said that the policy will be pursued "with the maximum prudence, as it will take time for the U.S. to grasp the situation in Korea and gather opinions inside the industry." The government's policy is to ban import of beef from older cattle "under any circumstances, either through renegotiations between governments or self-regulation by importers."[87]

U.S. bone-in beef from cattle slaughtered and processed according to Korea's new import regulations, the Quality System Assessment (QSA), is now sold in Korea but US beef is still not available in major supermarkets due to the perceived health risk.[88]

The Seoul Southern District Court ordered MBC to air a correction by the popular MBC current affairs program "PD Notebook", saying that the report was partially wrong and exaggerated the threat of mad cow disease. The public anger towards resuming the beef deal is now regaining its composure as many people began to buy US beef. The market share of US beef currently stands (Sept 23) at 28.8% following Australian beef (top seller), but for 10-days prior to Korea's thanksgiving day, it was ranked the first among its competitors.[42]

Relations with North Korea

On July 4, 2011 during a mass rally in Pyongyang Lee Myung Bak and his government were strongly criticized as traitors by spokesmen for the Korean People's Army and other elements of North Korean society. The Korean People's Army called for dealing "merciless deadly blows at the enemies till they are wiped out to the last man."[89]

Diplomatic achievements

The South Korean Lee Myung-bak Administration, having the third year, made diplomatic breakthroughs in 2009 such as the successful bid to G-20 Summit, joining the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and winning UAE nuclear power plant order.

The G-20, accounting for 85% of the world GDP and two-thirds of world population, is made up of the G-7 countries of the U.S., Japan, the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, and Italy and non-G-7 members of Republic of Korea, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, and the European Union.

The decision of South Korea to hold the G20 summit in November 2010, which came amid the 2009 Pittsburgh summit, was passed unanimously. The Korean government placed significance on being the first non-G-8 country to take the chairmanship of the forum, hoping that hosting the high-profile event would raise the country's standing.

The country's admission to DAC has also considerable diplomatic importance. Representatives of the DAC member nations met at the OECD Secretariat in Paris, France in November 2009 and voted unanimously to admit South Korea as the 24th member. The DAC members provide more than 90 percent of the world's aid for impoverished developing nations, and South Korea is the only member nation that has gone from being an aid beneficiary to a donor.

It is noteworthy too that President Lee led to the export of $20 billion Korean standard nuclear power plant during his visit to the UAE at the end of 2009. President Lee's summit diplomacy is continuing to realize the Global Korea Vision.[90]

President Lee participated in the 4th G20 summit in Toronto, Canada from June 26 to 28 and rallied support for his proposal on creating global financial safety nets and addressing development issues, which are the main topics of the upcoming summit in Seoul. [91]

President Lee also held bilateral summits with the U.S., Japanese and Chinese leaders and discussed North Korean affairs. Diplomatic effort was also made related to the Navy vessel Cheonan by leading the joint declaration of G-8 leaders to condemn the North. [92]

President Lee Myung-bak has eagerly made diplomatic tours of other countries and invited his foreign counterparts since he took the office. Data of President Lee's diplomatic outcome in 2009 shows that the president visited 14 countries, including the U.S. and Thailand on 11 occasions and had 38 summits. As a result, he laid the foundation for the country to emerge as the center of the world economy by successfully bidding for the G-20 Summit, one of the highest level economic cooperation bodies.[93] It was just one month before the G-20 Summit in Seoul that President Lee succeeded in reflecting concerns over the sinking of the country's naval ship Cheonan in the Chair's Statement of Asia-Europe Meeting. He also attracted support of the ASEM level for the success of the G-20 Seoul Summit. Another diplomatic achievement of the president in ASEM was to win the member countries' backing for the South Korean government's stance on North Korea's nuclear issue and stability in Northeast Asia. In addition, President Lee urged Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto to put his words on August 15, Korea's Liberation Day into action. Regular reunions of the families separated by the Korean war drew attention as an international issue after being included in the Chair's Statement.[94]

Under the Lee Myung-bak Administration, South Korea successfully concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union on July 1, 2011.[95]

Popular Culture and Public Impression

  • Lee Myung-bak has been lampooned in the South Korean online talk show, Naneun Ggomsuda; calling Lee Myung-bak as His Highness to relate to his alleged autocratic tendencies.[96] Staffs of Naneun Ggomsuda has also made a satire song (based on a Christian hymn, Nearer, My God, to Thee) about Lee's disputes on his Naegok-dong property purchase.[97]
  • The Seoul Municipal Government under Mayor Park Won-soon has proposed to demolish a building in Hyoja-dong, Jung-gu called the Blue House Sarangchae (청와대 사랑채) that politically promotes President Lee Myung-bak due to the unfair usage of the city of Seoul taxpayers' money into the building.[98]
  • The United Colors of Benetton presented a "photoshopped" image of Lee Myung-bak and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il kissing for the 2011 campaign, unhate.[99]



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  99. ^ "Benetton 'Unhate' Campaign Shows World Leaders Kissing". Huffington Post. 2011-11-16. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/benetton-unhate-campaign-world-leaders-kissing_n_1097333.html. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 

Additional reading

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Roh Moo-hyun
President of South Korea
Preceded by
Goh Kun
Mayor of Seoul
Succeeded by
Oh Se-hoon

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