South Korea's Iron Lady
In this photo from 2008, South Korea's President Park Geun-hye pays tribute to her parents.
May 8th, 2013
10:35 AM ET

South Korea's Iron Lady

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @CNNEmma

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(CNN) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye continues her official visit of the United States today. In her first overseas trip, President Park will address a joint session of congress. Yesterday, President Park and President Barack Obama held a news conference in the East Room of the White House. The two talked security, culture and trade.

[:22] "Today we agreed to continue the implementation of our historic trade agreement which is already yielding benefits for both of our countries," said President Obama.

Obama also made a joke about k-pop star PSY, saying his daughters have taught him the ubiquitous dance moves. But k-pop is also big business and the latest export from a country that's grown its economy through trade.

The Korean War left South Korea devastated economically. So in the 1960s, South Korea embarked on an ambitious economic revival plan centered around exports, according to Dr. Kim Reimann of Georgia State University. She says the plan was spearheaded by a young general, Park Chung-hee:

[1:22] "He came into power in 1961 through a bloodless military coup. He was worried about security and the north and the north Korea invading again," Reimann says.

Park felt that national security was tied to economic growth so he put all of the country's assets in private bank accounts, with the intention of growing the country's exports. It worked – but not without significant political, environmental and human rights costs. Park was ultimately killed by a friend and political ally in 1979. The motive for that killing remains unknown. 

Three decades later, Park's daughter became the nation's first female president. If her visit to Washington is any indication, her father's legacy of exports and trade is alive and well.

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