Kim Dae-jung: controversial bid for 'sunshine'
The one-time democracy advocate and then president of South Korea, he focused on trying to improve relations with the North.
Kim Dae-jung, South Korea's president from 1998 to 2003, who died Tuesday, dedicated his career to fighting dictatorial leaders and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his unremitting efforts at reconciliation with North Korea,.Skip to next paragraph
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Praise for Mr. Kim's achievements poured in from his admirers as well as longtime foes. South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who strongly opposed Kim's conciliatory outlook toward North Korea, called him "a great political leader" whose "accomplishments and aspirations to achieve democratization and inter-Korean reconciliation will long be remembered."
The statement masked the fact that US-Korean relations, for much of Mr. Kim's presidency, were strained by enormous differences over his signature issue: his approach to achieving North-South reconciliation.
Elected president – on his fourth attempt – in December 1997, Kim Dae-jung broke through the barrier of North-South confrontation when he flew to Pyongyang in June 2000 to meet the North's Kim Jong-il for the first inter-Korean summit. Six months later, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
The summit was the crowning moment in Kim Dae-jung's pursuit of his "Sunshine Policy." Advocates and critics have long debated the success of the policy, hailed for easing the North-South confrontation in the decades after the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War, but denounced for failing to compel the North to give up its nuclear program while avoiding the issue of widespread human rights abuses in the North.
A populist leader
A populist leader with a strong regional backing, Mr. Kim emerged as the voice of the pent-up sentiments of Korea's southwestern Cholla provinces, oppressed by rulers going deep into Korea's dynastic history and then by latter-day leaders with roots in the southeastern provinces.
Kim's victory in 1997 as the first opposition leader to win the presidency culminated a career that began in Mokpo, the port city in South Cholla near the tiny island where he was born, by most accounts, in 1925. The offspring of a farming family, Kim attended high school in Mokpo and served in an unofficial naval militia unit.
After the war, Kim edited a local newspaper and entered politics as a leftist activist in a setting in which he could play upon a deep-seated yearning to escape from heavy-handed rule.
Kim challenged Park Chung-hee, the general who seized power in May 1961, in the 1971 election, winning 43.6 percent of the votes.
Nearly four weeks later, he was severely injured in a collision that he said was an attempt to assassinate him. His showing in the election inspired General Park to impose martial law and a Yushin, or "revitalizing," constitution, that gave him dictatorial power.
As Kim gained international support for his criticism of Park, Korean agents kidnapped him from his hotel room in Tokyo in 1973. After the US ambassador to Korea, Philip Habib, protested to Park, Kim was dumped near his home in Seoul. Nearly three years later, Kim was arrested for signing a "declaration of democratization" and remained in prison until his release in 1978.