When congressional liberals introduced an economic sanctions bill against South Korea, they fired the opening salvo in what will probably be a long-term foreign policy battle with the Reagan administration. Violent demonstrations in South Korea are, in the opinion of congressional staff members and analysts of Korean affairs, the beginning of a cycle of protests and repression that could reach a boiling point in the summer of 1988 when the World Olympics come to Seoul.
This will increase pressure on the administration, which has indicated its desire to proceed with caution in South Korea. For the moment, an economic sanctions bill introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland, and Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, and Rep. Philip Foglietta (D) of Pennsylvania, is largely symbolic and has little hope of passing.
But the sanctions send two strong messages.
The first is to the Koreans. It comes at a time when, according to analysts, anti-American feeling is growing rapidly among a population which believes that the United States backs the Chun regime to the hilt.
``Up till now, the US has given the impression that it identifies change with chaos and a repressive status quo with stability,'' says South Korean exile, Shin-Bom Lee, of the International Center for Development Policy in Washington. ``As long as the US does this, the South Korean people will turn their backs on this country.''
The sanctions bill, according to congressional sources, is designed to show South Koreans that important segments of the US Congress and public favor their struggle against the Chun regime.
The sanctions backers believe this to be especially important since they feel that the Chun government will eventually fall and that the US will have to deal with its successors.