Lee Myung-bak life and biography

Lee Myung-bak picture, image, poster

Lee Myung-bak biography

Date of birth : 1941-12-19
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Osaka, Japan
Nationality : Korean
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-20
Credited as : Politician, president of South Korea since 2007, project manager at Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company

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Myung-bak Lee, also known as: Lee Myung-bak born December 19, 1941 in Osaka, Japan is a Korean politician and one of the Wolrd's ledears - president of South Korea.

Lee Myung-bak was elected president of South Korea in 2007 on what appeared to be a wave of popular support for the former executive with the Hyundai Group. Long known as "the Bulldozer" for his tenacity and determination, Lee is the first South Korean president with extensive corporate experience, but his rise had already captivated South Koreans. "Lee's life story is a mirror of the remarkable transformation of South Korea from poverty to the world's eleventh-largest economy," noted a writer for the Economist. "The inspiration for two television soap operas, he ... suffered malnutrition and hauled rubbish in a handcart to pay for his university studies."

Lee was born in December of 1941, when the Korean peninsula was under Japanese occupation. His father moved the family to the Japanese city of Osaka to take a job on a farm, and Lee's first years of life were spent in the Korean quarter of the city. The two countries harbored a longstanding historical animosity toward each other as competing powers in the region, and Koreans suffered immense hardships under Japanese rule. When World War II brought an end to Japan's might, the Lee family was able to return to the town of Pohang in the southeastern part of the peninsula. In 1950, however, lingering tensions--between a Communist-allied northern half and the U.S.-backed south--erupted once again into the three-year Korean War.

The war disrupted the economy and the food supply, and for a time Lee's family lived in an abandoned temple. The youngster and his six siblings all worked to help feed the family, and Lee completed high school by taking night classes while working as a popcorn vendor, among other jobs. He went on to Korea University in Seoul, where he majored in business and was elected student president of his department. During his years there in the early 1960s, the school became a focal point for anti-government demonstrations against the normalization of diplomatic ties with Japan under South Korean President Park Chung-hee, and Lee was one of the ringleaders. Arrested, he was charged with insurrection and served three months of a three-year sentence. The highly publicized trial and conviction, combined with an official hiring blacklist, should have ended Lee's career prospects forever, but he wrote a letter to Park pleading his case. As a result, his name was removed from the blacklist and he got a job with the Hyundai Construction Company.

Hyundai would grow into one of South Korea's largest chaebols, or conglomerates, but was a small company when Lee began there in 1965. He spent the first three years as a manager on a highway construction project in Thailand, then was given oversight of Hyundai's heavy machinery plant in Seoul. He was made a company director in 1970 and president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company in 1978, making him one of the youngest CEOs in South Korean history. Hyundai was by then a powerful entity, deploying thousands of workers every month to large-scale construction projects throughout the Middle East and launching its own automotive nameplate.

Lee held several other executive posts with various Hyundai properties before retiring in 1992 to enter politics and write his 1995 autobiography, There Is No Myth. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1992 and again in 1996, but was forced to resign two years later after a court found him in violation of South Korean campaign spending laws. In 2002, he ran successfully for mayor of Seoul, a city of ten million and showcase for South Korea's emergence as a world economic power during Lee's generation.

As mayor, Lee was able to repair a blunder that Hyundai had made in the 1970s, when it paved over a four-mile stream and attendant riverbanks for an elevated highway during Seoul's heady expansion era. Lee reversed the error with a project that rerouted the highway and restored the stream; the new park, called Cheonggyecheon, became a popular gathering spot, as did Seoul Forest, the city's lush version of New York City's Central Park, which opened in 2005.

Lee's four-year mayoral term ended in 2006, and in the spring of 2007 he announced his bid for the nomination of the Grand National Party on the coming presidential ticket. The Grand National Party is South Korea's center-right, firmly pro-business political party, and Lee won the August primary and December balloting with assured margins despite an attempt by political rivals to implicate him in a bank bankruptcy and stock-manipulation scandal.

Lee was sworn in as South Korea's tenth president on February 25, 2008. Several weeks later, on the eve of his first official visit to the United States, his government announced a plan to resume U.S. beef imports, which had been banned in 2003 after worries about mad-cow disease. Protests erupted in early May in Seoul and dragged on, becoming larger and more vociferous each week. On June 10, Lee's entire cabinet offered to resign in the wake of the largest anti-government demonstrations since 1987.

The crowds and pamphlets derided Lee as a traitor for bowing to foreign pressure, though U.S. beef imports are actually cheaper than Korean beef. As Leo Lewis, a correspondent for the Times of London, noted, "the oratory was much farther to the political left than anyone has heard for decades. The list of grievances--from the privatisation of state utilities to the minimum wage and a proposed 'grand canal' across the country--revealed a society profoundly ill at ease with the Government it recently elected."

Lee publicly apologized for the beef issue and replaced three key cabinet ministers. He was also forced to scrap the canal project, which would have connected Seoul and the major port city of Busan. Instead his government announced a new initiative to re-engage with North Korea's isolationist and authoritarian regime. Lee proposed to triple North Korea's gross national income to $3,000 per person through investment and aid if North Korea followed a concise program to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. Kim Jong Il's government responded that Lee was merely following U.S. orders to put pressure on North Korea, but in an interview with Time International, Lee explained that South Koreans had little choice with such an unstable neighbor. "Korea will continue to strengthen our traditional close alliance with the U.S.," he said, "because this will not only ensure the peaceful stability of Northeast Asia but also will deter war on the Korean peninsula."

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born December 19, 1941, in Osaka, Japan; son of Cheung-u (a farm worker) and Taewon Chae (a housewife) Lee; married Kim Yun-ok; children: three daughters, one son (Joo Yeon, Seung Yeon, Soo Yeon, Si Hyong). Education: Korea University, B.B.A., 1965. Addresses: Office--Office of the President, 1 Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

CAREER

Began as a project manager at Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company, Ltd., 1965, became a company director, 1970, executive director, 1975, executive vice president, 1977-87, and president and chief executive officer, 1978-81; president and chief executive officer, Inchon Iron & Steel Company, Ltd., 1982-87; president and chief executive officer, Hyundai Engineering Company, Ltd., 1987-91; chair, Hyundai Wood Industries, 1990-91; elected to National Assembly, 1992 and 1996 (resigned from office, 1998); published autobiography, 1995; elected mayor of Seoul, 2002; elected president of South Korea as the candidate of the Grand National Party ticket, 2007.

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