Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Kim Dae Jung

Kim Dae Jung's rise to the presidency of South Korea was protracted and tumultuous. He was elected in 1997 on his fourth try, his first having taken place in 1971. In between he survived an assassination attempt, a kidnapping and a death sentence, all engineered by South Korea's military leaders who saw Kim as a suspiciously liberal figure, born in a southern province they disdained. American interventions in 1973 and 1981 kept him alive. As President, Kim adroitly led South Korea out of the Asian financial crisis by cleaning up family-run conglomerates weakened by nepotism, and banks overloaded by unwisely acquired debt. His "Sunshine Policy" of reconciliation toward North Korea led to a North-South summit meeting in 2000 — and the Nobel Peace Prize. But the luster of Kim's presidency was tarnished by family corruption (two sons were jailed) and undisclosed payments to Pyongyang before the summit. At Kim's elaborate funeral in August, I asked a former South Korean Prime Minister how Kim would be remembered. He replied simply, "He will be remembered for bringing democracy to Korea."

Donald P. Gregg

Gregg, chairman emeritus of the Korea Society, was U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1989 to 1993