Lee Myung-bak

Lee Myung-bak is the 10th President of South Korea.

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Lee Myung-bak (Hangul: 이명박; Hanja: 李明博; /ˌliː ˌmjʌŋ ˈbɑːk/; Korean: [i mjʌŋbak̚]; born 19 December 1941) is the 10th 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] Lee is a graduate of Korea University and also received an 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 provocation from the North, but is also supportive of regional dialogue with Russia, China and Japan. Under Lee, South Korea has been increasing its visibility and influence in the global scene, resulting in the hosting of the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit.[4][5][6] However, there remains significant controversy in Korea in regards to high profile government initiatives which have caused some factions to engage in civil opposition and protests against the incumbent government and President Lee's Saenuri Party (formerly the Grand National Party).[7][8] The reformist faction within the Saenuri Party is at odds against Lee Myung-bak.[9]

Early life and education

Lee Myung-bak was born on December 19, 1941 in Osaka, Japan. His parents had emigrated to Japan in 1929 following the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula. 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, U.S. occupied Korean Peninsula.[10][11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[14]

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.[16] 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 1960s, 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. [5]

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."[11] 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 by his former secretary Kim Yoo-chan. After receiving USD 18,000 from Lee, Kim wrote a letter reversing his disclosure and fled the country. He resigned in 1998 before being fined 7 million won for breaking election law and appeasing Kim to flee.[17][18] 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.

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.[14][19][20][21] 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.[14] The major accomplishment during his term as a Mayor of Seoul would be the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, which now flows through the heart of Seoul and functions as 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.[22] 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".[23] 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."[24] In December 2007, a few days before the Presidential election, Lee announced that he would donate all of his assets to society.[25]

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.[26]

His foreign policy initiative was called MB Doctrine,[27] which advocates "engaging" North Korea and strengthening the US-Korean alliance.

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 is alleged to have met Kim Kyung-joon and established the LKE Bank with Kim Kyung-joon. However, this enterprise went bankrupt less than a year later and 5,500 investors lost substantial amounts of money. 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. Kim Kyung-joon and his wife attempted to implicate Lee Myung-Bak in criminal involvement which was not supported by evidence.[28] Eventually, Kim Kyung-joon admitted publicly sole responsibility and making false and misleading statements in an attempt to implicate Lee.[29] Lee was declared innocent of all charges by the Supreme Court of Korea.

However, controversy remains as fellow GNP lawmaker Won Hee-ryong recommended a reinvestigation of the BBK scandal following the arrest of Jung Bong-ju.[30]


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.[31][32][33] 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.[34] 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 KoreaUnited 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.[35][36]

Two months after his inauguration, Lee's approval ratings stood at 28%,[37] and by June 2008 they had reached 17%.[38] Bush and Lee also discussed the ratification of the South KoreaUnited States 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,[39] many Koreans protested the resumption of U.S. beef imports.[40]

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.[41]

[42] According to The Wall Street Journal, Lee's plan to privatize public companies was a modest but "perhaps important step" toward reform.[43]

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.[44][45]

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%.[46] However, Lee's popularity fell sharply through the last year of his presidency, with his approval rating at approximately 20% in May 2012.[47]

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.[48] As of late 2011, Lee's administration has had a series of corruption allegations surrounding certain high ranking government employees.[49]

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.[50]

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.[51] 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.[52]

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.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55]

Economic policy

Mbnomics is the term applied to Lee's macroeconomic policy.[56] 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.[57]

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.[14]

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.[58] 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.[59]

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.[60] 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.[61]

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".[62]

On September 7, 2011, the Blue House officially scrapped the plans for rich tax deduction; marked the foundational end of Mbnomics.[63]


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.

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).[64] Buddhist groups have voiced fears that it would submerge nearby Buddhist relics,[65] which would cause irreparable damage to a significant portion of Korea's cultural legacy.[66] 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.[67] Lee's promise to build the Grand Korean Waterway has stalled due to low public opinion.[68]

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."[14] 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.[69] 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).


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.[70]

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.[71] 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.[72]

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.[73] 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.[74] 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.[75]

Those involved in the allegation of receiving bribes from Samsung group have been cleared of charges after special prosecutory investigation.[76]

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.[77]

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.[78] 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,[79] who was often at odds with Roh Moo-hyun.[80] 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.[81]

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.[82] Lee also gave assurances that both the U.S. and South Korea would use dialogue to end the crisis.

Multiple news outlets have remarked upon the apparently close friendship between Lee and U.S. President Barack Obama.[83][84] 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.[85] President Obama hosted Lee for a day-long state visit and state dinner on Thursday, October 13, 2011.[86]

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,[87] 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.[32][88] 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.[89][90] 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.. [91] People's roar in an Internet community, Agora, also helped demonstrations to demand the renegotiation of the terms of the import deal. .[89]

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.[89]

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."[92]

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.[93]

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 (September 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.[45]

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."[94]

His direct and tough policy towards North Korea has resulted in promoting a negative image of him throughout North Korea. Lee Myung-bak's name has become a target practice in the North Korean military as shown through the Korean Central Television on March 6, 2012.[95]

Diplomatic achievements

President Lee Myung-bak has embraced an aggressive approach to foreign policy, driving initiatives such as Green Korea and Global Korea. President Lee conducts frequent state visits to other countries and extends invitations to foreign counterparts to visit Korea since he took office. In 2009 alone Lee visited 14 countries, including the U.S. and Thailand on 11 occasions and attended 38 summits.[96]

As a result of his efforts, the decision to hold the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November 2010 was passed unanimously at the 2009 Pittsburgh summit. In a historic first, South Korea became the first non-G8 country to take the chairmanship of the forum, and in Toronto, President Lee rallied support for his proposal on creating global financial safety nets and addressing development issues.[97] At the G-20 Summit in Seoul this led directly to the unanimous endorsement of the Seoul Development Consensus.

Under his administration, South Korea was admitted to the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). 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.

President Lee's diplomatic efforts led to an agreement between KEPCO and the UAE on the construction of a USD$20 billion Korean standard nuclear power plant during his visit to the UAE at the end of 2009.[98]

President Lee also held bilateral summits with the leaders of the United States, Japan, and People's Republic of China to discuss North Korean affairs. In the wake of the ROKS Cheonan sinking a joint declaration was issued by the G-8 leaders condemning the North.[99] President Lee succeeded in bringing the Cheonan incident to the forefront in the Chair's Statement for the Asia-Europe Meeting in 2010 at Brussels, drawing member nation support 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.[100]

Under the Lee Myung-bak Administration, South Korea successfully concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union on July 1, 2011.[101]

Current updates

He has been involved in a surveillance scandal that encouraged both Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party to pressure against him.[102][103]

Relations with Japan

Towards the end of his term in office, Lee began to take actions that caused friction between South Korea and neighboring Japan. On August 10, 2012 Lee flew to the Liancourt Rocks, known as Dokdo or Tokto (독도, literally "solitary island") in Korean, or Takeshima (たけしま/竹島?, literally "bamboo island") in Japanese. He was the first Korean president to do so.[104] Japan temporarily withdrew its ambassador to South Korea Masatoshi Muto, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kōichirō Gemba summoned the South Korean ambassador to file a complaint[105] and threatened to lodge a case with the International Court of Justice, (ICJ) which was rejected by South Korea. It could do so because both countries party to a dispute must agree to such ICJ cases. It was the first time for Japan to make such a move in 47 years, since Japan and South Korea officially re-established relations in 1965.[106][107] Japan previously proposed bringing the issue to the ICJ in 1954 and 1964.[107]

In a speech on August 13, 2012 Lee said that his actions were motived by a desire to force Japan to settle the comfort women issue.[108]

On August 14, 2012, on the eve of Liberation Day, Lee said that the Emperor of Japan Akihito should not visit Korea unless he apologizes to the victims of Japan's past colonialism. He made the statement while speaking at a meeting of education officials. There were no specific plans for such a visit to take place, and Lee had previously been supportive to such a visit. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Minister for Foreign Affairs Koichiro Gemba both described the statement as "regrettable".[109] A government official speaking to the Asahi Simbun said: "It has made it impossible for a Japanese emperor to visit South Korea for the next 100 years".[110]

On his Liberation Day speech on August 15, 2012 Lee demanded that Japan take "responsible measures" for the comfort women, blaming Japan for violating women's human rights.[111]


Dogok-Dong, Seoul Land Issues

Lee and his relatives managed pieces of land in southern Seoul, which was brought up in court in in early 2008.[112]

BBK Incident

Lee Myung Bak was alleged to have been involved in an illegal company named BBK which has brought controversy to South Korea during the election season. 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. Kim Kyung-joon and his wife attempted to implicate Lee Myung-Bak in criminal involvement which was not supported by evidence.[28] Eventually, Kim Kyung-joon admitted publicly sole responsibility and making false and misleading statements in an attempt to implicate Lee.[29] Lee was declared innocent of all charges by the Supreme Court of Korea. According to Wikileaks, Yoo Chong-ha (유종하), the former co-chairman of Lee Myung-bak's presidential election campaign, requested to then American ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, to delay the extraction of the main individual of the BBK embezzlement scandal, Christopher Kim (Kim Kyung-joon), to Korea on the request to prevent spreading controversies related to Lee Myung-bak's involvement in the BBK embezzlement scandal during the election season.[113][114][115][116]

Naegok-dong Post-Presidency Residence Issues

Lee's acquisition of a house in Seocho-gu's Naegok-dong under his son's name had caused a problem. One of the candidate lands that he sought was a Green Belt area, which could cause any contradiction about his "eco-friendly" governance.[117] This has spurred many controversies. For instance, a female lobbyist-like civilian with the family name of Yoo was involved in this Naegok-dong deal with Lee Myung-bak's family members; now currently moved to the USA to avoid a possible arrest.[118]

Lee has purchased this land under his son's name, which could potentially violate South Korean real estate laws.[119] The Prosecutors have formally proposed to investigate President Lee's son who was also involved in the contract.[120]

Legal professor, Lee Sang-don, voiced his opinion that President Lee's Naegok-dong property crisis could justify his impeachment.[121]

Tax Evasion

The spokesperson of the Democratic Party, Lee Yong-seop (이용섭), said that the presidential family's current residence was evading tax by declaring parts of the buildings as commercial purposes.[122]

Relatives' corruption charge

There has been negative responses in politics that Lee Myung-bak is favoring nepotism for his older brother, Lee Sang-deuk. He was a center of criticism from a bribery incident of his personal aide.[123] An older cousin of Lee was under an investigation by the Supreme Prosecutors for extorting fundings for the Four Major Rivers Project.[124]

In popular culture

  • One of his popular nicknames is President God*The Seoul Municipal Government under Mayor Park Won-soon has proposed to demolish a building in Hyoja-dong, Jongno-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.[125]
  • 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.[126]
  • A US-based South Korean artist released a comical portrait of Lee Myung-bak in a Nazi uniform similar to Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator to the public; he was later arrested.[127]
  • Seo Gi-ho (서기호), a judge who received warnings from his superiors because he had published strong anti-Lee remarks despite being a civil servant, expressed positive support through Twitter to a Gyeonggido Guri-based middle school teacher. The teacher received strong criticism and is awaiting discipline from his school after students and parents complained that he used exam questions to convey his anti-Lee agenda to his students.[128]

Additional reading


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