Secretary of State George Shultz has voiced unexpectedly strong support for South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan, and the opposition is unhappy about it. Visiting Seoul briefly last week after the Tokyo summit, Mr. Shultz praised President Chun for his efforts to bring democracy to South Korea by means of gradual reform.
``The idea that somehow there isn't an effort to bring into play democratic institutions and have an orderly transition of power is all wrong,'' Shultz told reporters. ``It is right there for everyone to see.''
The opposition was dismayed by Shultz's comments.
``His remarks were very disappointing to the Korean people,'' leading dissident Kim Dae Jung said. ``I am concerned that this might fuel anti-American feelings among students and dissident groups.''
Anti-Americanism in South Korea has risen sharply in recent months, and campus violence has been on the upswing.
Mr. Kim fears that Shultz's comments would provoke more anti-American sentiment seemed to be borne out Saturday at an opposition rally in the southern city of Masan. Students near the rally site chanted slogans against Shultz personally.
The rally itself, however, proceeded peacefully and was attended by an estimated 50,000 people. The success of the rally has played an important role in restoring the credibility of the opposition's campaign after violence disrupted a rally earlier last week in Inchon.
Shultz stressed the need for South Korea to create a tradition of democracy, which he said would take many years, and that Chun's pledge to step down from power at the end of his term of office is an important part of that.
``There will be a transition of power in early 1988,'' said Shultz, ``which is not very far away. As that happens it will be the first time that it has been possible to do that in an orderly way in Korea in 40 years. So it will be an achievement. I think that it deserves our support, and gets it.''
Western diplomats, and even some South Korean government officials in Seoul, expressed surprise at how strongly Shultz came out in favor of the Korean government's political program. US diplomats are usually careful to avoid taking sides.
A US State Department statement early last week condemned an outburst of violence at Inchon, saying it was not conducive to building democracy, but stopped short of assigning any blame.
Shultz seemed to dismiss alleged human rights abuses in South Korea. ``There can be problems. No one says the situation in human rights is perfect,'' he said. ``Not here, not in the United States, not anywhere.'' Shultz also said the intense debate over constitutional reform was a question for the Korean people to decide by themselves.
The opposition is calling for direct elections for the presidency, and says that fair elections cannot be held under the current Constitution. It claims that any system of indirect elections will be manipulated by the government, and will fail to elicit full participation of the people.
Shultz nonetheless echoed an oft-heard government argument against the direct election system. ``Without taking sides on the issue,'' he said, ``I think it is not particularly typical around the world that the leaders of democratic countries are put there by direct elections. They aren't.''