75. Telegram From the Embassy in Korea to the Department of State1

5782. From Ambassador. Subj: Korean Presidential Campaign.

Since ROK Assemblyman Kim Dae Jung won the nomination of the New Democratic Party (NDP) for the Presidency, he has been campaigning in manner that is causing considerable uneasiness among Democratic Republican Party (DRP), including latter’s leader, President Park.
Kim is attracting very large crowds in major cities, before whom he unhesitatingly discusses number of sensitive issues, domestic and foreign. He is forceful orator, and reports indicate that he can both effectively harangue crowds and deal persuasively with intellectual groups. He is challenging Park by name and issue.
He has brought about major outcry in govt circles by advocating elimination of Homeland Reserve (HR). While he did not mention fact specifically, he is of course aware that popular enthusiasm toward service in that body has waned due to favoritism on wide scale which enables sons of officials and others who are well connected to avoid reporting for drill sessions, which, moreover, are considered tedious by men who were drilling in same manner as recruits ten years ago. In coastal areas units put in more than twice as many duty hours as city dwellers, and their dislike for such duty is increased by fact their absence from area and fishing boat frequently brings economic loss for which they are not compensated.
Mr. Kim is doing his best also to get govt over barrel on local self-government issue, and he is reviving memories of fact that local elections were once promised by President Park and his party. DRP is in quandary as to how to handle that one because local elections would remove rigid control which party now exercises through system of appointive governors, mayors, county and district chiefs. System has proven hightly effective in both rewarding and punishing rural communities on basis their election performances.
Kim’s basic theme is simple. He does not deny Park’s achievements, but he declares that change is needed to straighten out political, economic and social inequities which he claims are developing in Korea. In addition to issues cited above, he has declared himself in favor of lowering voting age, raising investment in rural areas by twenty [Page 191] per cent, a graduated income-tax scale, for enhancement of women’s status through committee which would be under direct control of President, support for needy students and for eliminating that great bugaboo of Korean families, the college entrance examinations.
DRP has moved to curb Kim’s electioneering by having Central Election Management Committee, which it controls, declare that campaigning for presidency must be limited to period of forty days prior to actual election. During meeting with me last week at Kim’s request (memo pouched) I questioned him about effect of CEMC’s ruling. He said that he would ignore it, and he has done so up to now. DRP at this point is baffled, because CEMC ruling does not affect right of political parties to hold rallies. Persons are not supposed to proclaim their candidacy for presidency, but even if Kim observed that rule, no one can possibly misunderstand his words, his purpose, and his demeanor.
After my meeting with Kim, Prime Minister brought it up in conversation and asked my impressions of nominee. I said I found Kim interesting person who spoke in measured terms and who seemed to be clear-minded as well as determined. I added that I thought it would be interesting election. He inquired whether in my opinion there would be problem for President Park. I said I did not care to make judgment on that matter. PriMin then said that Mr. Kim was putting out reports to effect I supporting him and that I would help him go to United States. I commented there were two things about such reports, first being that they were without foundation, and secondly that I had heard them from several sources all of which, interestingly enough, were connected with DRP.
Minister of Defense then approached me and brought up subject of opposition candidate’s desire to eliminate Homeland Reserve, which Minister said must be maintained at all costs. I said that our opinion of value of Reserve had not changed, thought there were many things about way it was being developed which were having effect on public. Minister then said we would soon see what govt would do to equalize service for all elements of Reserve. I said I had no comment to make on that as it is Mr. Kim and not I who had been bothering him on subject.
President is said to have had some highly charged moments as he read Kim’s speeches. Opening para of that part of Kim’s speech to Seoul Corespondents Club on October 30 on “Korean Diplomacy in the 1970’s” reportedly had particularly pronounced effect on Park. At that point the NDP nominee said he believed talks with Kim Il Sung should be preceded by latter’s denunciation of aggression. Kim Dae Jung then continued: “At the same time, I am firmly opposed to creating this atmosphere of tension and horror, as evidenced in the policy of [Page 192] the present administration of President Park Chung Hee to prolong the life of one’s regime in the name of national security and anti-communism.” It is reliably reported that Park had to be peeled off the ceiling after that one. President has made no campaign move as yet. He is not noted for charisma, and would in any case be inhibited by his sense of personal dignity and local custom from engaging in direct debate with his opponent.
Kim is receiving strong support from his two erstwhile rivals for NDP nomination, Kim Young Sam and Lee Chul Sung, who are stumping with him. They are articulate trio, quite possibly better than anything majority party can field. Among many other things DRP is also annoyed because Kim Dae Jung’s given name “Dae Jung” literally means “large crowds” or “masses,” and DRP leaders are complaining that he uses his name much too frequently as he tells crowds that “day of masses has arrived.”
We will be exercising care as we observe developments to insure that neither side uses us for its purposes. It is obvious already that we are witnessing interesting developments which are likely to become even more so if Kim contines to draw crowds. (At Kwangju yesterday two hundred thousand persons came to hear him, and at Pusan several days ago he reportedly had from seventy-five to one hundred thousand.) DRP strategists are in some disarray, and their reported plan to stand on Park’s record may have to be greatly altered to deal with Kim’s promises, as Korean public generally is not overly enthralled by accounts of what party did for them yesterday.
We have en route to Dept comprehensive review of these developments and plan to continue frequent and complete coverage.2
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 KOR S. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 5804 from Seoul, November 4, Porter reported on the Korean Government and DRP reaction to nominee Kim Dae Jung and that Park asked the Prime Minister “to do something” about Kim. (Ibid.)