112. Letter From Korean Prime Minister Kim to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Dear Dr. Kissinger:

It was a great pleasure to renew our acquaintance during my visit to Washington last November. The discussion I had with you then was extremely informative and enlightening.2 I regret that since that time I have not been able to maintain regular contact with you due to the heavy burdens and extreme pressures connected with the presidential and general elections in Korea the following spring, and my subsequent appointment to my present post as prime minister.

However, I have been kept informed of your continuing support and cooperation on behalf of Korea, for which we are most grateful, through our Foreign Minister Kim Yong Shik, with whom you had meetings recently, and otherwise.

In awareness of your basically sympathetic and understanding attitude, I venture to call to your attention by means of this private communication a matter which, as you are well aware, is of vital and urgent concern to my government and my country. I refer, of course, to the crucial stage of negotiations in regard to textile import agreement between our two countries, deadline for which is impending: October 15.

You are no doubt familiar with the two years of negotiations over the question of proposed U.S. import restrictions on textile products originating in several East Asian countries including Korea.3 [Page 287]You probably know, furthermore, that in the course of these bilateral contacts the Republic of Korea has evinced an understanding and empathy over the difficult circumstances in which the United States found herself, and has endeavored to arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement in a spirit of good will and cooperation.

It has been sometime since the U.S. terminated grant-type aid to Korea, compelling our nation to rely increasingly upon her own devices to sustain economic growth and, at the same time, carry the heavy burden of national defense in an area of Asia which is still far from peaceful.

In the face of many difficulties and uncertainties, Korea and her people, under the outstanding leadership of President Park, have continued to exert their utmost efforts to attain the goal of complete economic self-sufficiency and self-supporting defense capability by 1976, the last year of our current third five-year economic development program—a goal which is obviously in the American best interests as well as our own.

One of the devices employed to fill the gap caused by the termination of U.S. grant aid has been the intensive program of inducing foreign capital, including a significant proportion of commercial credits. These, however, entail in the long run a heavy repayment burden, possibly further aggravating the country’s delicate balance-of-payments situation. There are thus limits to the effectiveness of this approach.

Another, more basic, approach is promotion of exports, which involves the issue at hand. It is true that Korea during the past several years has achieved a remarkable increase in her export volume—a circumstance that has been considered both phenomenal and remarkably encouraging by many outside observers. Still, the total has barely reached the sum of one billion dollars, and must continue to increase in order to provide a foundation for the goals of independence and self-sufficiency aforementioned.

In Korea’s present circumstances the promotion of exports, particularly the crucial area of textiles, which make up approximately 38 per cent of the total annual export value, is a matter of life and death to the Korean economy.

The American position in the present negotiations—position that has been maintained in good faith and no doubt accurately—is that the [Page 288]U.S. must impose effective import restraints or else face problems of unemployment and business recession.

To Korea—which is only one among many, and not the largest, of the textile exporters to the U.S.—the proposed export restraints, if applied in their full rigor, may well spell economic disruption and collapse, with all the grievous attendant consequences for the security of Korea, and the stability of this portion of Asia.

Since I fully realize that the issue is also a grave one for the troubled U.S. textile industry, I had instructed Minister Lee of Commerce and Industry, who recently visited the United States on this matter, not to insist arbitrarily on our own position, but to take the American dilemma into full account. As a matter of fact, we have always tried wholeheartedly to understand the U.S. position throughout the entire course of these long negotiations, asking in return only that your representatives in turn also take into consideration our own unique and crucial situation.

We now propose to accept an annual increase rate of 8 per cent—far below the earlier goal and the realistic potential—as our minimum line, the level offered by Ambassador Kennedy to President Park. Our only request is that the base year and starting date be deferred, based on actual performance during the calendar year 1971, and put into effect from the start of the calendar year 1972.

This does not seem to be too unreasonable a request in view of Korea’s late start as an exporting nation; its delicate position, both economically and in terms of international politics; and its crucial role in the military-political balance in Asia. What we ask, we cannot help but feel, is in the mutual self-interest of both countries in long run, and far outweighs any momentary difficulties in making the necessary adjustments and concessions.

Formal presentation of our proposition will be made by the Korean Ambassador in Washington to Ambassador Kennedy. In the meantime, your careful consideration and judicious support is solicited in fully representing our views to His Excellency President Nixon and other officials directly concerned, before bilateral agreement is concluded between our two countries prior to October 15.4

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I thank you for your attention to this matter from a reasonable, impartial, and long-range viewpoint, and for your due action. If this is the case, I think that in future we shall have cause to thank each other, and to congratulate each other, on a potentially dangerous and deleterious situation bypassed and avoided.

With highest esteem and warmest personal regard, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Kim jong Pil
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971. No classification marking.
  2. The two met on December 2; see Document 81.
  3. On April 13, 1970, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Wilbur Mills (D–Arkansas) submitted a bill to Congress to institute quotas on cotton, wool, and synthetic textiles. During the remainder of 1970, Nixon administration officials urged the Korean Government to work out a voluntary agreement to protect its position. The House of Representatives passed the Mills bill in September 1970. Because the Senate did not pass it before adjourning on December 28, the bill failed to become law. The United States and Korea reached a cotton textile bilateral agreement in late 1970, and it was extended for 6 months on January 1, 1971. Korea filled its quotas in a number of categories early, and such goods, including some types of fabric and print cloth, gloves, tablecloths, and napkins, were embargoed. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume IV, Foreign Assistance, International Development, Trade Policies, 1969–1972.
  4. On October 12, Holdridge and Hormats sent Kissinger a draft reply under a covering memorandum indicating that they had learned that Korea was “likely to reach an agreement based substantially on the U.S. proposal.” They advised Kissinger to “indicate that there is no further give in the U.S. position” and to not let “the Koreans perceive any equivocation on our part.” Kissinger rejected the draft, wrote on the memorandum that “Kim is a long-standing acquaintance,” returned it to them, and asked them to write a letter “on general relations.” On November 12, Holdridge and Hormats forwarded a revised draft to Kissinger which he approved and sent to Kim on November 15 with the following statement concerning the textile issue: “I have been pleased that our negotiators were able to reach agreement on the long-standing textile problem. It unfortunately had been a troubling factor in our relations with East Asia.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. IV, 1 Jan–31 Dec 1971)