South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae Jung hopes to focus world attention on Seoul Feb. 8, when he returns to an uncertain political future. In the following interview, he shared his thoughts with the Monitor's State Department correspondent, George D. Moffett III: What do you expect on your return? If there's no government crowd prevention, I think thousands of people will be at the airport.
Are you hoping the American news media will spotlight your return and thus put pressure on the Reagan administration to protect you? I have not asked any American media or congressmen to put pressure on the American government or the Korean government, but I am very pleased with their very serious concerns.
Are you concerned about the Aquino precedent [1983 slaying of Philippine opposition leader]? In a sense, Aquino's unfortunate fate has helped me. South Korea has learned a lesson from that case. If they commit the same crime in Seoul, the world will not be tolerant and our people will uprise against the government. [South Korean President] Chun is coming to Washington for a state visit in April. If he kills me, how can he come here?
What do you expect to accomplish in Korea? News of my return is already greatly influencing the Feb. 12 National Assembly elections. Both opposition parties are competing. They are competing in my name. They place my photograph on walls and say they are close to Kim Dae Jung. After the election I will make an effort to unify these two opposition parties.
Given political restrictions placed on you, is it realistic to think you have a major role in Korean politics, or can negotiate with President Chun? If the present government doesn't cooperate with us -- the democratic opponents -- there will be no stability. Without stability they cannot retain their power smoothly. . . .
But isn't there wide support now in Korea for the Chun government? There has been sympathy from the Korean airline incident and people are welcoming Korean economic growth. . . . But if the government is really supported, why should they fear my return? If a government can't allow freedom of speech, it must be afraid of public opinion. If a government does not allow free elections, it clearly shows it will not be supported by the people.
Who are your supporters in South Korea? Most of our people, I think, are supporting my cause for democracy, especially intellectuals, farmers, laborers, small businessmen. Some people say I am not supported by the military. This is not true. At present, if there is freedom of expression among generals, most of them would support democracy and human rights.
Won't your return give Chun an excuse to crack down, just as opposition forces are beginning to operate more freely? I don't deny that possibility. But if he cracks down there will be a serious confrontation between the government and democratic opponents, and our democratic opponents are strong enough not to be so easily clamped down.
With the threat South Korea faces from the North, is it realistic to expect full civil liberties? Only when there is a democratic system can we expect real security. In every country where [there] is democracy there is strong security. During the Korean War, North Korea invaded Korea with 1 million Chinese troops. Even then, our people enjoyed democratic freedoms. . . .
Do you think you could improve Korea's economic growth? I don't deny that Korea has succeeded in good economic growth but we must pay attention to this problem. . . . There is a huge gap between haves and have-nots. The more economic growth, the greater the people's dissatisfaction also grows.
How much American involvement should there be in Korean politics? I am not asking America to intervene in our politics. Democracy must be gained by our people's sacrifices. I only ask America three things. It should make clear it supports human rights. Second, since the American commander [for UN troops] has the right to control Korean military operations, he should take responsibility to prevent any military intervention in our political process. Third, America can use its economic aid and trade as leverage to encourage democracy.
Could US troops be pulled out of Korea? At present I don't support withdrawal of US troops because the South Korean government is not strong enough to deal with the North. But if democracy exists in the South, we will be strong enough to deal with the North. Without democracy, even 400,000 US troops [10 times the present number] won't provide us with real security.