Mixed feelings in South Korea
President Reagan's visit to Korea may be said to have had two purposes: (1) to strengthen security, and (2) to promote democracy. I have mixed feelings about the results of his visit.
On the one hand, I welcome his strong commitment to the security of South Korea and the fact that he advocated the importance of democracy and human rights, in contrast to his earlier attitude of promoting quiet diplomcacy alone. Our people look forward to results from his advocacy of democracy and human rights.
On the other hand, I am very disappointed with his apparent willingness to disregard several issues. First, his visit to Korea did not bring about freedom of speech, a lifting of the ban on political activity for 300 politicians, or the release of political prisoners. Second, he failed to meet important democratic leaders. Third, he didn't make sufficient efforts for the release of the hundreds of democratic advocates placed under house arrest on the occasion of his visit.
These things have greatly disappointed our people. I fear that Mr. Reagan's visit may result in fanning the flames of smoldering anti-American feelings. Also, some of the remarks made by him and several of his ranking aides are difficult to understand:
First, there was high praise for President Chun's plan to leave office in 1988, but the question of whether Chun Doo Hwan retires or attempts to remain in the presidency in 1988 is meaningless under the present dictatorial system. This system ensures that we will have another dictator, even if Mr. Chun does retire. It is most important that our people be able to choose their president freely under conditions in which freedom of speech and open elections are guaranteed.
Second, they said the South Korean dictatiorship is far milder than that of North Korea, but such comparison is nonsensical. The ideology in communist countries subscribes to proletarian dictatorship, but we have chosen a doctrine that holds individual rights and dignity as inviolable. Therefore, a communist dictatorship can be supported by those in favor of communism, but a military dictatorship cannot be supported by any of its people. For these reasons the milder dictatorship of the South Vietnamese was defeated by the stronger and more cruel dictatorship of communist North Vietnam. Would Americans accept from their government an argument that mild dictatorship was necessary in the face of a threat from the harsh Soviet dictatorship?
Third, it was said that the South Korean National Assembly was within range of North Korean artillery and this made it difficult to practice democracy in South Korea. But, in fact, the more serious the security danger, the greater the need is for democracy, because the people must be given something to secure. This assertion is endorsed by historical fact. When we were at war from 1950 to 1953, our people could repel North Korean invaders and more than 1 million Chinese troops because we enjoyed freedom of speech, direct election of the president, local autonomy, and the independence of the legislative and judicial branches.
Finally, they praised the miracle of economic growth in South Korea, but the phenomenon of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few was ignored. Control and ownership of capital is in the hands of only 10 business tycoons who produce 90 percent of the South Korean GNP. These tycoons have allied themselves with politically ambitious generals who have abused the excuses of national security and anticommunism to suppress the people's dissatisfaction. There is no free market accompanied by economic justice, as in Western societies. Thus, at a time when per capita income is $1,800, our people do not even enjoy the freedoms they had during the Korean conflict, when per capita income was only $60.
We cannot expect stability, national security, or support for the United States by the Korean people as long as the US supports dictatorships in South Korea. We do not ask the US to restore democracy for us; we ask that it not support military dictatorships and that it give moral support to bring about rule by the majority. This can be realized only when freedom of speech and fair elections are present. The Korean people can do the rest.