Some weeks ago the Reagan Administration announced that it was quite concerned that Kim Dae Jung's return be "trouble free." What it meant was that it hoped South Korean dictator Gen. Chun Doo Hwan's April visit to the United States would be trouble free. Nevertheless, the latter concern was a valuable quid pro quo for a guarantee of Kim's personal safety. American Embassy officials were to meet the party at the ramp. Cars were to be on hand to take Kim and his friends to his home. Courtesies were to be observed. And in a gracious gesture at the last minute, the South Korean authorities announced that they would not imprison their country's leading democrat.
This polite bargain with a ruthless regime had about the same credibility as a Presidential certification of progress on human rights in El Salvador. Members of the embassy staff were forcibly kept from the terminal area. The press was hustled down a moving staircase by plainclothes thugs, and the entourage of Americans was crudely set upon. Kim and his wife were dragged away by a third squad.
At this point, an ambassador is supposed to know his duty. But Richard Walker is made of different stuff. He is, after all, one of that shabby handful of American envoys who signed a letter endorsing the re-election of Jesse Helms last fall. He values the good opinion of General Chun above all else. Without making the least effort to interview Derian, his former colleagua White or the Congressman, he issued a statement charging the three with provocative behavior and with "reneging" on an agreement that had been made between the State Department and the South Korean government. He did not accompany the escorts on their visit to the Foreign Ministry, thus unmistakably signaling the level of his concern. And he did not, until squeezed to the limit, protest the indignities visited on his own staff at the airport.
The State Department now says it will wait for the results of the South Korean investigation of the imbroglio before taking further action. The wait will be a protracted one, given that the South Korean government did not mount an investigation, did not take depositions from any member of the American delegation and issued an insulting statement describing them as "effeminate" and "cowardly." A spokesman for General Chun accused Kim, who is 59 and walks with a cane as a result of an assasination attempt, of attacking the phalanx of K.C.I.A. men who awaited him. Kim is detained in his home without hope of a trial. He was not allowed to vote in last week's rigged elections; all other genuine opposition leaders had been barred from participation until shortly before the vote. The U.S. Embassy has spent a lot of time in briefings saying that the general has stabilized the country. But if the election results are any indication, the people there may be slowly readying for a fight. The New Korea Democratic Party formed recently by opposition leaders received 29 percent of the vote.
The brouhaha touched off by Kim's return will have been worthwhile if it focuses continued press and Congressional attention on his predicament and makes his treatment the acid test for relations with Seoul. But certain minimal steps must be taken in the meantime. The April visit of General Chun, who seized power with American help in 1979, should be called off. This country is not obliged to welcome a man who roughs up American Congressmen. And since Walker evidently regards himself as Korean Ambassador to the United States, he should be recalled to Washington. Above all, it must be borne in mind that a client regime that treats its patron this way is capable of far worse against its own citizens. Kim Dae Jung waits, in imposed isolation, to see what his fate will be. The physical isolation can be qualified, even negated, by acts of solidarity and concern which will have to be sustained in spite of, and without, the contemptible Ambassador Walker and those who insulted the Korean people by appointing him.
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|Title Annotation:||the return of Kim Dae Jung and the U.S. relations with the current government of South Korea|
|Date:||Feb 23, 1985|
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