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Park's sister draws fire for being too pro-Japan

Madam Park Geun Ryeong (above), sister of South Korean President Park Geun Hye, is viewed by some media as a risk to the President, saying her knack for making controversial remarks may hurt her sister politically.
Madam Park Geun Ryeong (above), sister of South Korean President Park Geun Hye, is viewed by some media as a risk to the President, saying her knack for making controversial remarks may hurt her sister politically.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

South Koreans say comments by President's sibling show her to be thoughtless, ignorant

Call her the wayward sister.

Time and again, the younger sibling of South Korean President Park Geun Hye has come out to contradict her older sister and been condemned for her "nonsensical" behaviour.

Some media even referred to Madam Park Geun Ryeong as a "risk" to the President, saying that her knack for stirring controversies might dent her sister's image and credibility.

The latest example: While President Park, 63, was pushing for Japan to apologise and compensate for its war atrocities amid the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Madam Park threw a spanner in the works by swinging against her.

Madam Park, 61, said in an interview with a video portal in Japan last week that it was "inappropriate" for Seoul to keep making such demands, as Japan's late Emperor Hirohito had already expressed regret to former Korean president Chun Doo Hwan in 1984.

She added that it was South Korea's own responsibility to compensate wartime sex slaves known as comfort women, not Japan's.

"I am sorry that we are not doing a better job taking care of the comfort women and just continue to release news that criticise Japan," she was quoted by JoongAng Ilbo newspaper as saying.

Madam Park also criticised her own country for protesting against visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese politicians, saying that it was akin to intervening in Japan's domestic politics.

She even referred to the late Japanese emperor as "heavenly emperor", triggering public outcry that she was blatantly and overtly pro-Japan.

Opposition lawmaker Park Ji Won tweeted that her remarks were "thoughtless words coming from a sister of (the) president and a citizen of Korea", while opposition leader Lee Un Ju said it showed her ignorance in understanding historical wounds.

A poll of 500 people by cable TV station MBN showed that 79.9 per cent were angry with Madam Park's comments, and only 7.6 per cent felt her points were valid. The rest were not aware of what she said.

President Park has not commented on the controversy.

According to local reports, the relationship between the two sisters has been frosty and they are not on speaking terms.

Some media and netizens went as far as to draw an analogy between them and Disney characters Elsa and Anna in the hit movie Frozen. President Park, who is not married and known to keep to herself, was compared to ice queen Elsa, while Madam Park was the impulsive younger sister Anna.

More than a sister, President Park had been a parental figure to her two younger siblings - Madam Park and their brother Ji Man.

The trio grew up in the Blue House from 1961, after their father Park Chung Hee seized power in a military coup. When their mother died in 1974 in a botched assassination attempt on her husband, who was president, the young Park Geun Hye stepped into her shoes as the first lady - until Mr Park himself was assassinated in 1979.

The two sisters reportedly fell out after fighting over the management of Yookyoung Foundation, which was set up by their late mother to promote child welfare.

Graduating from Seoul National University, Madam Park took over as chairman of the foundation in 1990, after accusing her sister of failing to keep misbehaving board members in check.

Yet she herself was forced to step down amid a corruption scandal involving her staff in 2004.

Since then, the younger sister has been behaving like a loose cannon, often landing in trouble for making controversial remarks.

In 2005, she drew flak for defending a tour leader accused of sexual harassment. The man had led a

domestic tour organised by Yook- young Foundation, and when parents complained he harassed their daughters, she notoriously shot back: "So your girls got pregnant?", apparently suggesting that the parents were overreacting.

Three years later, Madam Park was again in the spotlight, this time for marrying against her sister's wishes. Her groom, university professor Shin Dong Wook, was 14 years her junior, and Madam Park's sister reportedly suspected he had ulterior motives for marrying her.

Both of Madam Park's siblings were conspicuously absent from the wedding ceremony.

At a press conference then, Madam Park said she felt apologetic towards her siblings for marrying a much younger man. They remain married today, even though Prof Shin was indicted in 2010 for defaming his sister-in-law and jailed for two years from 2011 for falsely accusing his brother-in-law of murder.

Prof Shin defended his wife in the latest saga, comparing her to 15th century French heroine Joan of Arc who led the French army to victory against the English. In a social media post, he called her "Park of Arc", saying that she made the comments for the future of Korea, risking her life despite knowing that she would incur the wrath of Koreans.

But the Korea Times, in an editorial, said that Madam Park "appears spiteful" and questioned if her latest move was "a stunt to promote her political agenda or a vengeful act of sibling rivalry".

"She would not have received so much attention if she was not the President's sister. So we expect her to consider her position and behave with common sense and some dignity," the newspaper said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'Park's sister draws fire for being too pro-Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe