Lot 122, Box 53

Memorandum Prepared by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East34


Korea: Political Problems: Provisional Government

I. The Problem

The question is “In view of the Cairo pronouncement that Korea is ultimately to be made independent, what interim governmental machinery is to be set up?” (Question 8a),35

II. Basic Factors

While there is an agreement among China, Great Britain and the United States that Korea shall be free and independent, it is assumed that this independence will be preceded by some form of interim government under the supervision of an outside power or powers. The Cairo Declaration, December 1, 1943, made by the leaders of these three countries states that:

The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.

Koreans have had little experience in self-government. Prior to 1905, Korea was a monarchy in which everything belonged in principle to the sovereign and the average citizen was considered as something to be exploited for the benefit of the ruling class; the Korean government [Page 1240] showed questionable efficiency and virility. As a colony of Japan, Koreans have been given only a limited opportunity to participate in government. This measure of participation has included the right to serve as officials of the Government-General under close Japanese supervision, and the right of males who are over twenty-five years of age, and who pay a minimum tax, to participate in the election of local councils. Though these councils have been quasi-legislative bodies since the reforms of 1931 and 1933, the subjects which they discuss have been unimportant and have never concerned political problems, while their decisions are subject to review and veto by higher authorities. Thus those Koreans who have had some slight experience in local government have never enjoyed any real freedom of political choice or action.

The possibilities of an early revolution within Korea are remote. The majority of the people do not know the active leaders in any of the revolutionary centers abroad; many of the revolutionary leaders at home have been imprisoned, while other potential leaders have been drawn away from the movement by appointment to positions in the Japanese administration. The exclusion of Koreans from important political posts for the past thirty-five years has emasculated them politically and has deprived them of all experience in managing a state.

These factors, together with the possibility that an independent but weak Korea would again become subject to international pressure and intrigue and threaten political stability and peace in the Pacific, make it highly desirable that some form of interim supervisory organization be established. The form which any such supervisory body for Korea may take is dependent on several imponderables. In the first place, if a general international organization is inaugurated under which a system of international trusteeship is established, such a trusteeship system might be applied to Korea. The basic purposes of any such temporary trusteeship for Korea might well be to foster a capacity for self-government among the Koreans, to safeguard their personal liberties, to promote the economic development of the territory and the social well being of the people, and to assure a just and efficient government.

If the United States were a member of such an international organization it would automatically share in the responsibilities for the establishment of an international trusteeship commission and an administrative authority for Korea. Furthermore, as the security of the North Pacific will be of concern to the United States and as Korea’s political development may affect this security, the United States would naturally be interested in active participation in any Korean administrative authority. For a similar reason, and be [Page 1241] cause it has been one of the dominant European states in the Far East, Great Britain will also have an interest in participation either directly or through the Dominions. Furthermore, both China and the Soviet Union have territory contiguous to Korea, have a primary concern in its future political status, and hence will presumably wish to take part in the administration.

It is possible that a regular trusteeship will not be established for Korea, but that an international supervisory council will be set up. Such a council could operate regardless of whether or not there was an international organization. The members of any such international supervisory council would probably include China, Soviet Russia, the United States and Great Britain, or failing the latter, one of the British Dominions.

If the temporary trusteeship over Korea were to be assigned to a single power, the difficult problem arises as to what state should assume this responsibility. Irrespective of the desires of any Chinese that their country be designated as trustee for Korea, the Chinese will be confronted with the colossal assignment of reconstruction of their own country and will have available few capable persons to assist in the control of Korean affairs. The supervision of Korea by the Soviet Union during the transition period would create serious political problems. China would be fearful lest Korea become sovietized and the United States might consider such a development as a threat to future security in the Pacific. Finally, it is questionable whether the United States would wish to accept a trusteeship for Korea.

It seems likely, therefore, that the supervision of the administration of Korea prior to the establishment of its full independence, will be delegated to an authority composed of representatives of at least China, Soviet Russia, the United States and Great Britain, rather than to any single state. Such action would minimize the possible effort by individual countries to control Korea affairs and should facilitate the adjustment of any possible rival claims which might arise, for example, between China and the Soviet Union. Obviously, American membership in any sort of international supervisory organ, whether it be a trusteeship, or a supervisory council, would place on the United States a responsibility for Korean affairs which would last even after the termination of military government. Furthermore, in view of the determination of this Government, as expressed in the Cairo Declaration, “that in due course Korea shall become free and independent”, this responsibility will continue even though no international organization or international supervisory council for Korea is established. In the event that there is an international organization, any arrangement for Korea should be consistent with the general plan, but in any case there should be no mandate for the United States alone.

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III. Departmental Views

It is believed that there will be in Korea, prior to its ultimate independence, an international administration or an interim government under international supervision, in which the United States will be represented.

Prepared and reviewed by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East.

TS: HBorton (drafting officer) ISO: DCBlaisdell
GHBlakeslee JA: ERDickover
PRJosselyn CA: OEClubb
RAFearey LA: ALMoffat
FE: JWBallantine ME: MBHall
AHiss FMA: CFRemer
LRD: JRFriedman
FSO: EHDooman
  1. Marginal notation in the original: “Changes in the original document are underscored.” (Document under reference, PWC–124, March 28, not printed.)
  2. Ante, p. 1194.