113. Intelligence Note Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1

REAN–60

Republic of Korea: Park Clamps Down on Opposition Elements

South Korean President Park Chung Hee, in deciding to use the military in severe disciplinary measures against student demonstrations, may have been seeking to remind all elements of society of Presidential authority and to underline the strict limits within which dissent and criticism will be permitted. Prime Minister Kim Chong Pil, cast as the government party’s “progressive” since the presidential elections, has avoided association with the unpopular measures inasmuch as he was in Iran when troops occupied Seoul campuses.

Strong Action Against Demonstrators. In the first five months following the April presidential elections, the ROKG was unusually conciliatory in dealing with demonstrations by various groups over social and economic issues. But by mid-October the government apparently decided that strong action was required against intensifying student demonstrations in which President Park himself, as well as other government and army leaders, were being attacked by name. On October 15, troops occupied Seoul campuses, and on the same day, the well-known deputy managing editor of Korea’s largest newspaper was arrested on charges of reporting military actions at Korea University in exaggerated terms.

Broad Purposes Involved. The government was concerned that if the students were unchecked other dissatisfied elements would be encouraged to mount further demonstrations. It also wanted to avoid any appearance [Page 290]of weakness as preparatory talks with the North Korean Red Cross delegation got underway. More importantly, however, action against the students also seems to have been meant as a warning to other elements of the political establishment and the press that President Park is still in control and that criticism and obstruction of the government will continue to be strictly limited. Park probably felt such a gesture useful in view of divisions within his own party which, in early October, had resulted in expulsion of several key members and dismissal of the Home Minister. In addition to government party factionalism, Park was faced with a strong opposition party whose attacks on government policy were gaining wide publicity and which had so far blocked National Assembly approval of the budget. The party’s relatively mild public objection to Park’s measures against the students and the equally mild press reaction seem to indicate that his warning has had the desired effect, at least for the moment.

Prime Minister’s Image Unaffected? Fortunately out of the country at the time (to attend Iran’s anniversary festivities), Prime Minister Kim Chong Pil has not been linked to the crackdown measures.2 Consequently, his popularity with the students and his image as the progressive within the government party (carefully cultivated during the presidential election campaign) will probably not suffer from the government’s measures.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–8 KOR S. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Drafted by B. Donovan Picard (INR/REA) and approved by INR/REA Director Paul M. Popple.
  2. Telegram 5561 from Athens, October 17, reported Vice President Agnew’s conversation with Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil in Persepolis, Iran on October 15. Kim reported a “disruption of important proportions in some universities,” and Agnew expressed “complete confidence in President Park’s ability to handle the situation.” Kim said that he had asked for more time “to try for conciliation” but that the “President moved swiftly as soon as the Prime Minister had left the country for Iran.” (Ibid., POL KOR SUS)