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A Nobel for the Right Kim

October 17, 2000



When he was sent into exile for opposing South Korea's dictator 18 years ago, Kim Dae Jung often tried to persuade his American hosts that Korean culture had historical roots for democracy.

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And despite much skepticism, Mr. Kim also laid out a plan for reconciling North and South Korea - which included South Korea setting an example by becoming a democracy first.

His ideas raised skeptical eye-brows among US officials at the time. Kim was not a welcomed guest at the White House.

But that kind of political prophecy, combined with the courage to make it happen, won Kim the Nobel Peace Prize last week.

The prize was well-timed. The Nobel committee, as it has done in the past, put its stamp of approval on an evolving peace process.

Elected as president three years ago in a dictator-free country, Kim made a historic trip to Communist-run North Korea last June. It was the first summit between the two nations, which are still technically at war 47 years after the bitter Korean conflict.

The prize will help shore up Kim within his own country. His conservative political opposition warns Kim of being too soft toward a still-dangerous North Korea.

This last summer, for instance, North Korea held one of its largest military exercises ever - after receiving emergency international aid for a famine. And it hasn't yet ended its missile program. Even the Nobel committee could not bring itself to give the award jointly, to include North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

But despite that, athletes from the two countries marched together at the Summer Olympics in Sydney. And President Clinton is planning to visit the North in November.

Kim's "sunshine policy" toward the North is working. Such courage to do what's right was what sustained Kim during his long struggle for democracy and human rights under South Korea's dictatorship. He paid the price by being imprisoned, exiled, and at one point, kidnapped.

He's also lessened the intense regionalism within South Korea by becoming the first president from the poorer, southwest region of Cholla. He has worked hard to reconcile Korea with its former colonizer, Japan.

Kim's story can serve as inspiration for other Asian nations still battling authoritarian leaders.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society