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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Placed under house arrest several months after Park's October 1979 assassination, Kim was imprisoned, tried, and sentenced to death for instigating the bloody Kwangju revolt of May 1980, in which soldiers killed approximately 200 people, mostly students who had held the city for two weeks.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The United States persuaded Chun Doo-hwan, the general who seized power after Park, to commute the death sentence in return for an invitation to become the first foreign head of state to visit President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
In 1982, Kim was exiled to the United States. He returned to Seoul in a blaze of publicity on Feb. 8, 1985. He lost presidential elections in 1987 and 1992 after nationwide protests forced Chun to agree in June 1987 to a "democracy constitution."
A touch of 'Sunshine'
He was finally victorious in 1997, narrowly defeating a conservative candidate in the midst of an economic crisis that swept much of Asia.
Soon after his inauguration in February 1998, he laid out his Sunshine policy, and in 2000, said that the South was "willing to provide the infrastructure" to jumpstart the North's collapsed economy.
On June 13, 2000, Kim flew to Pyongyang on the first flight from Seoul to Pyongyang since the Korean War. Kim Jong-il greeted him at the airport, and crowds cheered as they drove into the city.
The two leaders in a joint declaration pledged to work for "reunification" and to resolve "humanitarian issues," including reunions of millions of families divided by the Korean War, as well as return of political prisoners. In the run-up to announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kim Dae-jung returned 63 former prisoners, some of them jailed for years on espionage charges.
Accepting the Nobel in Oslo in 2000, Kim said that he and Kim Jong-il had "succeeded in bridging the unification formulas" by proposing a system of "one people, two systems and two independent governments."
Fulfillment of the promises made in Pyongyang was slow. Inter-Korean family visits were limited in number and length and tightly monitored. North Korea stopped reunions in South Korea.
Ultimately, the image of the summit was deeply undermined by an investigation in South Korea in 2002 that confirmed the secret transfer of as much as $500 million to persuade Kim Jong-il to agree to hosting it.
A senior North Korean official's acknowledgement to a US delegation in October 2002 of a program for developing highly enriched uranium led to the breakdown of the 1994 Geneva agreement under which North Korea had stopped producing plutonium for warheads in exchange for construction of twin light water energy reactors.
George W. Bush, who hosted Kim at the White House in early 2001, expressed "skepticism" regarding verification of any agreement with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, on nuclear weapons. He then deepened differences by including North Korea in an "axis of evil," along with Iran and Iraq, in his State of the Union address in 2002.
Kim's successor as president, Roh Moo-hyun, carried out the policy of reconciliation with the North.
At Mr. Roh's funeral in May, Kim paid tribute to the former president, but spoke regretfully of the reversal of "Sunshine" by the conservative President Lee, who was elected by a landslide in December 2007.
Lee insisted on verification of anything North Korea claimed in terms of giving up its nuclear program. He also stopped providing food and fertilizer, as his predecessors had done.
North Korea denounced Lee as a traitor, said it was again producing nuclear materiel, refused to return to six-nation talks, and said that the truce that ended the Korean War was void.