1. Conservative Elected President: Lee Myung-bak of the conservative opposition Grand National Party won the 17th presidential election by a landslide on Dec. 19, ending a 10-year liberal presidency of Korea. He successfully appealed to the nation with his pledge to revive the economy based on pragmatic conservatism. However, financial fraud allegations have haunted him throughout the campaign. Voters chose his career success as the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction and Seoul mayor to lead the nation.
2. President Roh Meets N. Korean Leader in Pyongyang: President Roh Moo-hyun held a second inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang from Oct. 2-4. They agreed to declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War with heads of relevant states, establish the peace and economic zone in the West Sea, and expand inter-Korean economic cooperation. The summit came seven years after former President Kim Dae-jung held the first summit with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in June 2000.
3. Diploma Forgery: Triggered by Shin Jeongah, 35, an “assistant professor” at Dongguk University, the diploma forgery scandal hit the nation in the months since July.
Beginning with Shin, a number of prominent figures in the field of the arts, broadcasting and other areas were found to have forged their diplomas.
The disturbing scandal offered an opportunity for Koreans to look back on a society in which educational background serves as a pivotal role for success.
4. Oil Spill: More than 10,500 tons of oil was spilled in the sea off Taean, South Chungcheong Province, on Dec. 7, after a Samsung Heavy Industries barge collided with the 146,000-ton Hong Kong-registered tanker “Hebei Spirit.”
The local government has estimated that 5,159 hectares of fisheries and marine farms have been damaged, with another 9,000 hectares expected to suffer losses.
More than 300,000 volunteer workers have participated in the cleanup operation to overcome the manmade environmental catastrophe.
5. Korea-US Free Trade Accord: South Korea and the United States signed a free trade agreement in June, putting an end to more than one year of tense negotiations. The landmark deal is expected to pave the way for the two allies to enhance their relations.
However, the FTA still has a long way to go, as it requires legislative ratification by both countries.
The deal was reached despite strong opposition from local farmers and labor groups, which claimed that cheaper U.S. products and merchandise would hurt their livelihood.
6. Korean Hostages in Afghanistan: A group of 23 Christian volunteers were held hostages by the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan on July 19.
It took 43 days for the Taliban to release all the hostages but two men were shot to death by the militants.
The incident raised questions on the government’s direct negotiation with terrorists and the probable ransom given to the Taliban. Christians’ evangelical activities overseas, particularly in Islamic countries, were criticized.
7. Yeosu Expo 2012: In November, Korea’s southern coastal city of Yeosu successfully won the bid to host the 2012 World Expo.
After over 500 days of all-out bidding efforts, the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) announced at its 142nd General Assembly in Paris that Yeosu beat out Warsaw, Poland and Tangier, Morocco to host the world’s third-largest event.
To welcome the some 8 million expected domestic and overseas visitors, the government has pledged to speed up its infrastructure construction to build highways and railroads. An estimated 1.7 trillion won is to be poured into constructing the expo complex and about 12 trillion won has been budgeted to build the necessary infrastructure.
8. Sports Stars: South Korean teenage phenoms Park Tae-hwan and Kim Yu-na continued showing flashes of greatness in 2007.
Park, an 18-year-old swimmer, won the gold medal in the men’s 400-meter freestyle at the World Championships in March in Melbourne, Australia, holding off rival Grant Hackett. Park also gained nine golds at three World Cup series meets.
Kim, a 17-year-old women’s figure skater, topped the International Skating Union (ISU) World Grand Prix Final for the second straight year in December in Turin, Italy. She had two wins from the Russian and Chinese Cups.
9. KOSPI Opens 2,000-Point Era: The Seoul stock market posted a lot of records this year, with the benchmark KOSPI rising above 2,000 points for the first time on July 25. Until Oct. 31 when the index reached the year’s high of 2,064.85 points, the index set records 51 times.
The key index has suffered steep correction since November in line with the U.S. subprime meltdown. Still, the Seoul market posted the 8th biggest gain in the world this year, with the yearly gain reaching about 30 percent.
Seoul stock gains are remarkable, given foreign investors sold a record amount of Seoul stocks worth 25 trillion won. The market is expected to perform strongly next year on steady flows of fresh money into equity funds.
10. BBK and Samsung Scandals: The stock rigging scandal involving a financial company, “BBK,” and Samsung Group’s slush fund scandal, both of which tarnished Korea’s image at home and abroad, will face investigation by an independent counsel from next year.
The BBK scandal, in which president-elect Lee Myung-bak is allegedly involved, is likely to be the last obstacle for Lee on his way to the nation’s top post next February.
Samsung Group’s slush fund scandal triggered by disclosures by former Samsung lawyer Kim Yong-chul will also be face a special investigation after President Roh Moo-hyun appointed Cho Joon-woong, a former chief of the Incheon Prosecutors‘ Office, to head an independent probe into corruption allegations involving the group.