350. Letter From the Ambassador to Korea (Brown) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy)1

Dear Bill:

This is the first letter in the bi-weekly series which you asked us to provide covering developments related to ROK-Japan normalization. As you suggested I will seek to record nuances in the Korean atmosphere which may not be apparent from cable reports.

The Korean Government, and more particularly Foreign Minister Yi Tong-won, remain determined to resume negotiations as soon as possible. Yi has made clear his time-table. He hopes the Shiina visit to Seoul will occur in November and be followed immediately by a resumption of negotiations in Tokyo. He is also prepared to stop in Tokyo in December on his way back from Germany, to lend his own voice to resolving differences. Certain authoritative voices now speak of a settlement agreement being signed next spring.

The new ROK Ambassador to Tokyo, Kim Tong-cho, will be working to this schedule. He arrived in Tokyo on October 20 carrying a letter of invitation to Shiina. Kim has told me that he intends to re-open negotiations with the Japanese at the point where they were broken off last spring. This appears reassuring because it implies that no attempt will be made to re-open those aspects of the financial settlement already agreed in the Kim-Ohira memorandum. It also would appear to recognize the need to conduct the fisheries negotiations with due regard to what has already been accomplished. That means negotiations on base lines, restricted zones, and economic cooperation in much the same manner as appeared acceptable to the Japanese earlier.

On the other hand, I am not inclined to accept Kim’s statement completely at face value. There are indications that the Koreans will seek to gain maximum concessions from Japan in connection with remaining differences and there may be some retreat from previous positions. Moreover, there continues to be pressure for re-opening the Kim-Ohira agreement, most strongly from the opposition but also to a certain extent from people in the government party.

The fisheries-Peace Line problem remains critical. Excitement over Japanese fishing inside the Peace Line has died down but could flare up at any moment. We have been urging moderation and I believe [Page 773] with some success. At the moment the ROKG seems to be restricting itself to chasing Japanese fishing boats instead of capturing them. The move to arrange a Shiina visit will further this moderation as the Koreans know that seizures will make it hard for Shiina to come to Korea.

Our efforts to bring about a greater degree of economic exchange between Korea and Japan have borne fruit slowly. The extended argument over the $20 million loan is nearing an end. The Koreans are just about to accept the loan, although after considerable haggling. Similarly, protracted discussions over the terms of commercial credits for the PVC and cement plants may be reaching an end. The bickering that went on has detracted from what otherwise could have been useful contributions to Korean realization of the economic benefits of normalization. Efforts at expansion of Korean exports to Japan before normalization continue to yield results and are worth pursuing but not much significance has been attached to them thus far by either side, even though Korean’s trade deficit with Japan this year is likely to be substantially smaller than in 1963.

The change in Soviet leadership, the British election results, and even more importantly the Chinese Communist nuclear explosion, have all had an interesting and probably significant effect on Korean attitudes in respect to normalization or relations with Japan. These events have caused Koreans to ponder the need for closer relations with Japan in a changing world, and to realize that isolation is not in their interest. The Foreign Minister has told me he intends to take advantage of this fortuitous development. To some extent the press is already reflecting the idea and calling for pursuit of national interest in the broadest possible terms. The government has used the occasion to repeat its plea for a non-partisan approach to foreign policy, especially in relation to Japan.

Although non-partisanship sounds sensible and we expect some effort in this direction, I do not see enough signs of that “sincerity” of which Koreans frequently speak. The Foreign Minister looks at non-partisanship more as a gambit than a serious course of action. The more adamant individuals on the opposition side may give lip-service to the concept but deny the principle in practice. Nevertheless, I believe efforts to create a “national” rather than a “partisan” attitude are likely to continue.

All of the elements involved in achieving a settlement will be coming into play over the next few months. Diplomacy will seek to express itself in negotiation, public support will be solicited, and political maneuvering will take place. President Pak and the Foreign Minister have sufficient determination to lead to a serious effort. The government’s internal educational campaign is still in low gear but the Foreign [Page 774] Minister claims it will gather speed once a Shiina visit is in the offing and the resumption of negotiations approaches.

Over the past two weeks the government has been publicly insisting on its intention to go ahead with negotiations. Perhaps this has been a way of testing the water. So far the reaction has not been adverse. Moreover, through a series of meetings within the government and between the government and the Democratic-Republican Party preparations for resumption of negotiations have been stepped up. There is also talk of meeting with the opposition. Good press coverage of these activities has added to the air of seriousness surrounding the government’s efforts to get on with negotiations with Japan.

Many uncertainties remain and I do not wish to exhibit unwarranted confidence. But I do believe that there has been a measure of improvement in the atmosphere. We have at least reached the stage where the government feels that the resumption of negotiations in itself is not likely to cause a sharp reaction in Korea. We therefore approach the next crucial round in the settlement process with just a bit more hopefulness than we had a month or two ago.


  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL JAPAN–KOR S. Confidential; Official-Informal. The letter indicates that Bundy saw it. A copy was sent to Reischauer.