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Lee Myung-bak

Lee Myung-bak
Lee in November 2010
10th President of South Korea
In office
25 February 2008 – 25 February 2013
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo
Chung Un-chan
Yoon Jeung-hyun (Acting)
Kim Hwang-sik
Preceded by Roh Moo-hyun
Succeeded by Park Geun-hye
Mayor of Seoul
In office
1 July 2002 – 30 June 2006
Preceded by Goh Kun
Succeeded by Oh Se-hoon
Member of the National Assembly
for Jongno
In office
30 May 1996 – 21 February 1998
General secretary Kim Dae-jung
Park Geun-hye
Preceded by Lee Jong-chan
Succeeded by Roh Moo-hyun
Personal details
Born (1941-12-19) 19 December 1941
Osaka, Japan
Political party Grand National
Spouse(s) Kim Yoon-ok (1970–present)
Children Joo-yeon
Alma mater Korea University (B.B.A.)
Religion Presbyterianism
Korean name
Hangul 이명박
Hanja 李明博
Revised Romanization I (Yi) Myeongbak
McCune–Reischauer Yi Myŏngbak
Pen name
Hangul 일송
Hanja 一松
Revised Romanization Ilsong
McCune–Reischauer Ilsong
Japanese name:
Akihiro Tsukiyama (月山明博)[1]

Lee Myung-bak (Hangul이명박; ; Korean: ; born December 19, 1941) was the 10th President of South Korea from February 25, 2008, to February 25, 2013. Before his election as president, he was the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, as well as the mayor of Seoul from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2006. He is married to Kim Yoon-ok and has three daughters and one son. His older brother, Lee Sang-deuk, is a South Korean politician. He attends the Somang Presbyterian Church.[2] Lee is a graduate of Korea University and received an honorary degree from Paris Diderot University on May 13, 2011.[3]

Lee altered the Japanese-South Korean government's approach to North Korea, preferring a more hardline strategy in the wake of increased provocation from the North, though he was supportive of regional dialogue with Russia, China and Japan. Under Lee, South Korea increased its visibility and influence in the global scene, resulting in the hosting of the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit.[4][5][6] However, significant controversy remains in Korea regarding high-profile government initiatives which have caused some factions to engage in civil opposition and protest 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.[9] He ended his five-year term on February 25, 2013, and was succeeded by Park Geun-hye.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Business career 2
  • Early political career 3
    • Mayor of Seoul 3.1
  • Presidential election 4
    • BBK scandal and Kim Kyung-joon 4.1
  • Presidency 5
    • Education policy 5.1
    • Economic policy 5.2
    • Canal 5.3
    • Environmental and climate Policy 5.4
    • Cabinet 5.5
    • Foreign policy 5.6
      • US beef imports 5.6.1
      • Relations with North Korea 5.6.2
    • Diplomatic achievements 5.7
    • Surveillance scandal 5.8
    • Relations with Japan 5.9
  • Scandals 6
    • Dogok-Dong, Seoul land issues 6.1
    • BBK incident 6.2
    • Naegok-dong post-presidency residence issues 6.3
    • Other 6.4
    • Tax evasion 6.5
    • Relatives' corruption charge 6.6
  • In popular culture 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Additional reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life and education

Lee Myung-bak was born December 19, 1941, in Osaka, Japan. His parents had emigrated to Japan in 1929, nineteen years after the Japanese annexation of Korea. Lee's father, Lee Chung-u (이충우; 李忠雨), was employed as a farmhand on a cattle ranch in Japan, and his mother, Chae Taewon (채태원; 蔡太元), was a housewife. He was the fifth of his parents' four sons and three daughters.

In 1945, after the end of World War II, his family returned to his father's hometown of Pohang, in Gyeongsangbuk-do in the American-occupied portion of the Korean Peninsula.[10][11] Lee's sister, Lee Ki-sun, believed that they smuggled themselves into the country in order to avoid having the officials confiscate the property they acquired in Japan. However, their ship was wrecked off the coast of Tsushima island. They lost all their belongings and barely survived.[12]

Lee attended night school at Dongji Commercial High School in Pohang and 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' imprisonment by the Supreme Court of South Korea. He served a little under three months of his sentence at the Seodaemun Prison in Seoul.[13] In his autobiography, Lee wrote that he was discharged from Korea's mandatory military service due to a diagnosis of acute bronchiectasis while at the Nonsan Training Facility.

Lee Myung-bak

Business career

In 1965, Lee started work at Hyundai Construction, the company which was awarded Korea's first-ever overseas construction project, a $5.2 million contract to build the Pattani-Narathiwat Highway in Thailand and china. Shortly after he was hired by the company, Lee was sent to Thailand to participate in the project, which was successfully completed in March 1968. 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". On one occasion, 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 – only five years after he joined the company – and CEO at age 35, becoming Korea's youngest CEO ever. In 1988, he was named chairman of Hyundai Construction at the age of 47.[14]

When he began work at Hyundai in 1965, the company had 90 employees; when he left as chairman 27 years later, 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 its 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 its focus toward the Middle East. The company continued to be a major player in construction projects with the successful completion of international projects including 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, which contributed to overcoming the national crisis resulting from the oil shock.[17]

He left Hyundai after a 27-year career, and 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 his election, he stated that he ran for the office 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 lost to former prime minister Chung Won-sik during the primary of the Democratic Liberal Party.

In 1996, Lee was reelected as a member of the Korean National Assembly, representing Jongno-gu in Seoul. At the election, one of his opponents was another future president, Roh Moo-hyun, who was ranked third place.

After he became a second-term lawmaker, his former secretary Kim Yoo-chan disclosed that Lee had spent excessively in his election campaign. After receiving USD$18,000 from Lee, Kim wrote a letter reversing his disclosure and fled the country. Lee resigned in 1998 before being fined USD$6.5 million for breaking election law and forcing Kim to flee.[18][19] In the by-election held after his resignation, Roh Moo-hyun was elected as his successor.

Mayor of Seoul

Cheonggyecheon at night

In 2002, Lee ran for mayor of Seoul and won. As Mayor of Seoul, Lee's most noteworthy projects included the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon stream, 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][20][21][22] Lee worked to transform the area around Seoul City Hall from a concrete traffic circle to a lawn where people could gather. The 2002 FIFA World Cup showed how the area could be used as a cultural space, which 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] A major accomplishment during his term as mayor of Seoul was the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, which now flows through the heart of Seoul and functions as a modern public recreation space.

Presidential election

On May 10, 2007, Lee officially declared his intention to seek the nomination of the Grand National Party (GNP) as its presidential candidate. On August 20, 2007, he defeated Park Geun-hye in the GNP's primary to become the party's 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 neighborhood in Seoul.[23] However, in August 2007, the prosecutors said in the interim announcement, "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."[24] On September 28, 2007, the prosecutory authority officially dropped the suspicion that the Dogok land was under a borrowed name, announcing, "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."[25] In December 2007, a few days before the presidential election, Lee announced that he would donate all of his assets to society.[26]

Lee's stated goals were expressed in the "747 Plan" and included: 7% annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP), $40,000 USD per capita, and transforming Korea into 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 believed would lead to an economic revival. His political opponents criticized the project, saying it was unrealistic and too costly to be realized. Others were concerned about possible negative environmental impact.

Signaling a departure from his previous views on North Korea, Lee announced a plan to "engage" North Korea through investment. He 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, and called for the formation of an aid office in North Korea as a way of decoupling humanitarian aid from nuclear talks.[27]

His foreign policy initiative was called MB Doctrine,[28] 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 was alleged to have met Kim Kyung-joon and established the LKE Bank with him. However, this enterprise went bankrupt less than a year later, and 5,500 investors lost substantial amounts of money. BBK co-founder Kim was investigated for large-scale embezzlement and stock price-fixing schemes. Kim had initially stated that Lee was not involved with the company, and Lee himself denied being associated with BBK. Kim and his wife attempted to implicate Lee in criminal involvement, which was not supported by evidence.[29] Eventually, Kim publicly took sole responsibility, and admitted making false and misleading statements in an attempt to implicate Lee.[30]

However, controversy remained as fellow GNP lawmaker Won Hee-ryong recommended a reinvestigation of the BBK scandal following the arrest of Jung Bong-ju.[31]


Lee shakes hands with United States President 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 a landslide.[32][33][34] He took the oath of office on February 25, 2008, vowing to revitalize the economy, strengthen relations with the United States and "deal with" North Korea.[35] Specifically, Lee declared that he would pursue a campaign of “global diplomacy” and seek further cooperative exchanges with regional neighbors Japan, China, and Russia. He further pledged to strengthen South Korea–United States relations and implement a tougher policy with regard 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.[36][37]

Two months after his ratification of the South Korea–United States Free Trade Agreement or KORUS FTA, which faced opposition from legislators in both countries. While Lee's agreement during the summit to partially lift the ban on US beef imports was expected to remove the obstacles in approving the KORUS FTA in the US,[40] many Koreans protested the resumption of U.S. beef imports.[41]

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 protests continued for more than two months, and the original purpose of the candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports was replaced by others, such as opposition to the privatization of public companies, education policy, and 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 South Korean won.[42]

[43] According to The Wall Street Journal, Lee's plan to privatize public companies was a modest but "perhaps important step" toward reform.[44]

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.[45][46]

Lee's approval ratings 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 boosted Lee's popularity. His approval rating in January 2010 stood at 51.6%.[47] However, his popularity fell sharply through the last year of his presidency, with his approval rating at approximately 20% in May 2012.[48]

Former president, Kim Young-sam expressed negative outlooks on Lee's role as the president and his influence between South Korea and Japan according to a Wikileaks file.[49] As of late 2011, Lee's administration had a series of corruption allegations surrounding certain high-ranking government employees.[50]

Education policy

The Lee administration introduced a tailor-made educational system and established the National Scholarship Foundation, which offers services such as student loans and loan counseling. In addition, the government promoted an income contingency pay-later plan in order to help out those struggling to pay tuition fees.[51]

Teachers were highly critical of these changes, arguing that Lee wanted to turn Korean education into a "free market," while ignoring the underfunding of education in regions outside the Seoul area.[52] 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, with 3.8 billion won each on average.[53]

The Lee government planned to use a pool of young Korean Americans for the promotion of after-school English education in public schools in rural areas, with the aim to improve the quality of education.[54] 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.[55] He then attempted to implement a program where all English courses in middle school and secondary schools would be taught in English only, which would require the government to educate many teachers in Korea and recruit university students studying abroad in English-speaking countries.

Economic policy

"Mbnomics" is the term applied to Lee's macroeconomic policy.[56] The term is a portmanteau derived by combining his initials (Myung-bak, Mb) and the term economics (-nomics) to form "Mbnomics". Kang Man-Soo, the Minister of Strategy and Finance, is credited with coining the term and the design of Mbnomics.[57]

The centerpiece of Lee's economic revitalization was his "Korea 7·4·7" plan. The plan took its name from its goals: to 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 put it, his government is mandated with creating a new Korea where "the people are affluent, society is warm and the state strong." To this end, he planned to follow a pragmatic, market-friendly strategy: smart market economy, empirical pragmatism, and democratic activism.[14]

Lee wanted to move to low-carbon growth in coming decades. The government hoped to be a bridge between rich and poor countries in fighting global warming by setting itself goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2020.[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. He 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]

Around early 2011, Mbnomics gained a negative reputation due to tax reduction plans for the rich, the failure to privatize or merge national banks, and failure to provide affordable housing.[60] The middle-aged and senior Korean population usually supported Lee Myung-bak. However, businesspeople in their 50s-60s in the construction and real estate sectors withdrew their support of Lee after the 2010 regional election and 2012 presidential election.[61] Lee said of corruption in South Korea that the "entire nation is rotten".[62]

Oh Geon-ho (오건호), the head of the Public Policy Institute for People, criticized parts of Mbnomics as "over-financing big private companies" and "worsening the fiscal state of the country".[63]

On September 7, 2011, the Blue House officially scrapped plans for a rich tax deduction, marking the foundational end of Mbnomics.[64]


The Grand Korean Waterway, officially known as the Pan Korea Grand Waterway, is a proposed 540-kilometer (340 mi) long canal, traversing difficult mountainous terrain, 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.

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, there will be a net positive effect (such as improving the Han River).[65] Buddhist groups have voiced fears that it would submerge nearby Buddhist relics,[66] which would cause irreparable damage to a significant portion of Korea's cultural legacy.[67] 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 a tourist attraction. In particular, the development of the canal would increase the accessibility to cultural assets that are far to reach, and hence more efficient management of those assets would be possible.[68] Lee's promise to build the Grand Korean Waterway stalled due to low public opinion.[69]

If successful, Lee maintained that his plan, which would include dredging and other measures to improve Korea's waterways, would decrease water pollution, and bring economic benefits to local communities. 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 would drop the Grand Canal project if the public opposed the idea, and the premier confirmed this statement on September 8, 2008.[70] Despite this assurance, many now accuse Lee of continuing the canal plan under the guise of "maintenance of the 4 great rivers (4대강 정비사업)."

Environmental and climate Policy

President Lee Myung-bak was a pioneer for Korean environmental and climate policy and laid out an agenda for National Strategy for Green Growth and the Five-Year Plan for Green Growth in 2008. In February 2009, President Lee established the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, which absorbed the sustainable development commission and two other committees on energy and climate change under direct authority of the President. The Five-Year Plan for Green Growth laid out a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 relative to a ‘business-as-usual’ baseline implying a 4 per cent cut from the 2005 level.

The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project was 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 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, improve 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 faced strong criticism over his choice of political appointees, many of whom were wealthy. The concern was that Lee's appointees would favor policies that protect the rich, while failing to address the needs of the underprivileged. Another criticism was that these appointees have mostly chosen from the nation's southeast region (Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongsangnam-do), which is known as a GNP stronghold.[71]

While the fact that the property owned by high officials, including ministers, 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.[72] In order to set aside the alleged regional bias, Lee's first cabinet appointment procedure faithfully abided by the principles and rules by appointing four from Seoul and Yeongnam district, three from Honam, Gangwon, and Chungcheong province, and one from North Korea.[73]

Moreover, Lee's administration increased the welfare budget by 9% to help the poorest maintain the living and middle class's stability, and pursued many more policies for the benefit of the public than the former government.[74] His administration further claimed that the tax reforms undertaken, including the comprehensive property tax cut was not to benefit the wealthy and the haves, but to correct a wrongful tax according to the market principle.[75] Lee also had to face corruption charges leveled at his administration. Three appointees resigned amid suspicions of corruption, and his top intelligence chief and anticorruption aide faced accusations that they received bribes from The Samsung Group. Both Samsung and Lee denied the charges.[76] Those involved in the allegation of receiving bribes from Samsung group have been cleared of charges after special prosecutory investigation.[77]

On July 7, 2008, Lee 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, became 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 had been provided for the cabinet due to many pending issues since the inauguration of the new administration.[78]

Foreign policy

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

Lee was widely considered to be pro-U.S.[79] In mid-April 2008, Lee traveled to the United States for his first official overseas visit to meet with U.S. 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,[80] who was often at odds with Roh Moo-hyun.[81] 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," 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 was 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.[82]

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.[83] 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.[84][85] Despite Lee's wavering support at home, Lee's leadership was lauded by 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.[86] President Obama hosted Lee for a day-long state visit and state dinner on October 13, 2011.[87]

Lee also played a role in bringing about the normalization of South Korea's relations with Russia. Furthermore, Lee built relationships with foreign leaders, including former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen,[88] former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

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.[33][89] 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 since been retracted by MBC.[90][91] 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 variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) is easily transmittable through methods including blood transfusions, eating instant noodles containing beef products and using cosmetics made with cow-derived collagen. [92] People's roar in an Internet community, Agora, also helped demonstrations to demand the renegotiation of the terms of the import deal. [90]

As public anger continued to snowball, citizens 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.[90]

In an interview, Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun said that the policy would 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."[93]

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.[94]

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 U.S. beef. The market share of U.S. beef currently stands at approximately 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.[46]

Relations with North Korea

On July 4, 2011, during a mass rally in Pyongyang, Lee 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."[95]

His direct and tough policy towards North Korea promoted a negative image of him throughout North Korea. Lee's name became a target practice in the North Korean military as shown through the Korean Central Television on March 6, 2012.[96]

On May 5, 2012, the Pyongyang Times newspaper published stories and pictures of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) workers threatening to "wipe out" the Lee clan.[97][98][99][100][101] The workers were upset at Lee for "having defiled the DPRK's supreme dignity when all the fellow countrymen were celebrating the centenary of the birth of President Kim Il-sung."[97]

Diplomatic achievements

President Lee embraced an aggressive approach to foreign policy, driving initiatives such as Green Korea and Global Korea. President Lee conducted frequent state visits to other countries and extended invitations to foreign counterparts to visit Korea from the time he took office. In 2009 alone, Lee visited 14 countries, including the U.S. and Thailand on 11 occasions and attended 38 summits.[102]

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.[103] 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 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 Korea Electric Power Corporation (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.[104]

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.[105] 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.[106]

Under the Lee Administration, South Korea successfully concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union on July 1, 2011.[107]

Surveillance scandal

Lee was involved in a surveillance scandal that encouraged both Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party to put pressure against him.[108][109]

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.[110] 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[111] 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.[112][113] Japan previously proposed bringing the issue to the ICJ in 1954 and 1964.[113]

In a speech on August 13, 2012, Lee said that his actions were motivated by a desire to force Japan to settle the comfort women issue.[114]

On August 14, 2012, on the eve of Liberation Day, Lee said that the Emperor of Japan Akihito should not visit Korea unless he apologized 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".[115] 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".[116]

In 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.[117]


Dogok-Dong, Seoul land issues

Lee and his relatives managed pieces of land in southern Seoul, which was brought up in court in early 2008.[118]

BBK incident

Lee was alleged to have been involved in an illegal company named BBK, which 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 had initially stated that Lee was not involved with the company, and Lee himself denied being associated with BBK. Kim and his wife attempted to implicate Lee in criminal involvement, which was not supported by evidence.[29] Eventually, Kim publicly took sole responsibility, and admitted making false and misleading statements in an attempt to implicate Lee.[30] 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's presidential election campaign, requested 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 in order to prevent spreading controversies related to Lee's involvement in the BBK embezzlement scandal during the election season.[119][120][121][122]

Naegok-dong post-presidency residence issues

Lee's acquisition of a house in Seocho-gu's Naegok-dong under his son's name caused a problem. One of the candidate lands that he sought was a green belt area, which could cause contradiction about his "eco-friendly" governance.[123] This 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's family members. She moved to the U.S. to avoid possible arrest.[124]

Lee purchased the land under his son's name, which could potentially violate South Korean real estate laws.[125] The prosecutors formally proposed to investigate President Lee's son, who was also involved in the contract.[126][127][128]

Legal professor Lee Sang-don, voiced his opinion that President Lee's Naegok-dong property crisis could justify his impeachment.[129]


The Seoul municipal government under Mayor Park Won-soon proposed demolition of a building in Hyoja-dong, Jongno-gu called the Blue House Sarangchae (청와대 사랑채) that politically promoted President Lee, due to the unfair usage of the city of Seoul taxpayers' money in the building.[130]

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 building for commercial purposes.[131]

Relatives' corruption charge

There were negative responses in politics that Lee favored nepotism for his older brother, Lee Sang-deuk. He was at the center of criticism from a bribery incident of his personal aide.[132] An older cousin of Lee was under an investigation by the Supreme Prosecutors for extorting funds for the Four Major Rivers Project.[133]

In popular culture

  • One of Lee's popular nicknames is President God (often used sarcastically)
  • The United Colors of Benetton presented a Photoshopped image of Lee and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il kissing for the 2011 campaign, unhate.[134]
  • 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.[135]
  • 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 awaited discipline from his school after students and parents complained that he used exam questions to convey his anti-Lee agenda to his students.[136]

See also


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Additional reading

  • The Hankyoreh, Who is Lee Myung-bak?
  • The Korea Times, Economy-First Trademark Gives Lee Myung-bak Edge
  • The Chosun Ilbo, TIME Names Lee Myung-bak 'Hero of Environment'
  • Meet the Presidential Hopefuls: Lee Myung-bak at The Korea Times
  • Interview with the Korea IT Times, September 2005
  • Interview with the Korea Times, July 1, 2004
  • The Evolution of a Man Called ‘Bulldozer’ NYT, December 20, 2007

External links

  • Lee Myung-bak's Cyworld Minihomepage
  • Collection of links related to Lee Myung-bak
  • Korea Society Podcast: President Lee Myung-bak Addresses The Korea Society
  • Korea Society Podcast: Lee Myung-bak's First 100 Days in Office: Roots of a Summer of Discontent?
Political offices
Preceded by
Goh Kun
Mayor of Seoul
Succeeded by
Oh Se-hoon
Preceded by
Roh Moo-hyun
President of South Korea
Succeeded by
Park Geun-hye
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