Roh builds on nationalist fervor in S. Korea. RIDING THE OLYMPIC WAVE
Seeking to capitalize on the success of the Seoul Olympics, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo offered yesterday to hold a summit meeting with his North Korean counterpart. ``I am willing to visit Pyongyang to meet with [North Korean President] Kim Il Sung, if the North is agreeable,'' President Roh said in a major policy address to the National Assembly. Mr. Roh said he was willing to hold a summit ``without any restriction,'' with ``frank discussions on all pending issues.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The South Korean leader was responding to a speech made by Mr. Kim on Sept. 8 in which the North Korean proposed a summit to discuss a non-aggression pact and the withdrawal of United States troops from the South.
In his speech on Tuesday, Roh reiterated earlier proposals to end the freeze in North-South relations through trade, exchanges of visits, and other cooperation. He said the government will shortly present a new formula for unification, based on wide ranging consultations with various political groups in the South.
Roh pledged to continue the progress made in recent months in opening economic and political ties with communist countries. Almost all of North Korea's communist allies, including China and the Soviet Union, attended the Olympics. The President stressed the nation's readiness to expand cooperation, particularly in the area of trade and economic contacts. He offered South Korean participation in ``the development of Siberia.''
A nationalist fervor sparked by what Roh called ``the best Games ever,'' offers the government an opportunity to distract the public somewhat from some sticky domestic issues. ``It's the high ground,'' comments the Western diplomat. ``He'd rather talk about [foreign relations] than other things.''
The ruling Democratic Justice Party clearly hopes the warm glow of Korea's Olympic triumph will carry it through some serious domestic political challenges. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the three major opposition parties, is scheduled to carry out investigations of corruption and other abuses of power by Roh's friend and predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan.
Roh promised to cooperate with the probes but called for them to be a ``cool-headed examination.'' He cautioned against ``political retaliation,'' which he said would harm the process of democratization.
``We have never stood before the world as tall as this,'' Roh told the nation. ``Indeed, we have now acquired the confidence that we can do anything to which we put our mind.... Now we are opening a chapter of history in which Korea should achieve both unification and prosperity and emerge as a major player on the world scene in the 21st century.''
The nationalistic rhetoric was understandable given the triumph of the Olympics for Korea. Not only were the Games staged without serious incident, but Korean athletes performed beyond expectations, capturing the fourth largest number of gold medals, after the Soviet Union, East Germany, and the US.
The other side of national pride was the widespread display of anti-Americanism that grew in intensity during the course of the Games. The Korean media led the way, with even ruling party officials taking part, in charging Americans with disrespect for Korea, and the American media, particularly NBC, with presenting a negative portrayal of the nation.
Roh made no evident effort to repair the damage of that anti-Americanism in his address. He made scant mention of relations with the US - ``a nod,'' as one Western diplomat in Seoul described it - noting that America is ``an ally with whom we have been defending the peace and freedom of the Korean Peninsula and who is also our closest partner in economic cooperation and trade.'' (There are more than 42,000 US troops stationed in Korea to defend against potential North Korean attack, and the US is Korea's biggest trading partner.)
The President said he would ``keep my promise to build a new democratic nation.'' He repeated his commitment to continue the process of democratic reforms begun last year following antigovernment protests.