77. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The Korean Presidential Campaign

Although the presidential election in the Republic of Korea (ROK) will not be held until May, 1971, the candidate of the opposition New Democratic Party, Kim Tae-chung, has already emerged as a serious contender in the race against President Park Chung Hee. President Park is seeking a third term, the Constitution having been amended last year to remove the provision which limited the President to two terms in office.

In seeking re-election, Park can point to a solid record of achievement, particularly his role in the ROK’s remarkable economic growth. During his administration the ROK has taken giant strides toward stability, economic viability, and international acceptance. The President also enjoys the political advantages accruing to the strong, authoritarian chief of a state in which democratic institutions are only beginning to develop. He has a large measure of control over the media, a sizeable and active party organization, control of the armed forces as well as of extensive and well-endowed security organs.

Conversely, a long period in power has eroded the elan noted in his regime in earlier years, the corruption which he originally sought to stamp out has reappeared and may even have increased, and there is widespread impatience at the heavy hand of his security organs. Most of the population has benefited from economic growth, but disparities in income are excessive. The campaign to amend the Constitution, during which he made statements à la DeGaulle, offering the electorate a choice between himself and chaos, left a legacy of distrust and disappointment.

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Park is now 53 years of age. Kim is 45, and the most vigorous opponent to face the President thus far. Kim is also able and intelligent, an excellent orator, skilled both at haranguing large crowds and establishing easy relationships with small groups of intellectuals. He offers an alternative, in contrast to previous candidates who could only oppose for opposition’s sake.

Since his nomination Kim has toured Korea, expounding his views to large—up to 200,000—crowds in the country’s major cities. He does not deny Park’s achievements, but declares that a change is needed to straighten out the political, economic and social inequities which he claims are developing in Korea. Specifically, he advocates elimination of the favoritism-riddled Homeland Reserve, the restoration of local self-government, the establishment of a graduated income tax, lowering of the voting age, and the raising of investment in rural areas by twenty percent. In foreign affairs, Kim accuses the President of exaggerating the North Korean threat to prolong the life of his own regime, asks for talks on reunification with Kim Il-song (but only after the latter renounces any aggressive intentions), and proposes that Korean security be guaranteed by the U.S., Japan, the Soviet Union and the CPR.

President Park has reportedly asked Prime Minister Chung Il-kwon to “do something” about Kim, and several leaders of the ruling Democratic-Republican Party (DRP) have urged the government to take strong action against Kim on the basis of alleged violations of the anti-communist laws (i.e. Kim’s remarks bearing on Korean security). Reluctant to make Kim a martyr, the ROKG has acted to squelch future publicity about Kim’s speeches, and has mounted a radio and TV campaign against him. The latter included a live TV-radio press conference in which Defense Minister Jung, supported by thirty leading Defense officials including the JCS chairman, denounced Kim’s call for abolition of the Homeland Reserve as “benefiting the enemy.”

If we have any experience with Korean elections, it is that they can be hotly contested, sensitive, and even disruptive to internal stability. As this one begins to take shape, it appears it will not be an exception.

Theodore L. Eliot, Jr.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 542, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. III, 6/70–Dec 70. Confidential. A November 9 covering note from Houdek to Kissinger reads: “The full State memo is well worth reading. It looks like Park has a real opponent on his hands and is in for a hotly-contested election.” Houdek recommended that “we should closely monitor this election” and obtain from CIA a more complete biography of Kim Dae Jung and an assessment of his election chances. Haig wrote at the bottom of the page: “Yes, and we’re helping defeat Park for a less reliable substitute.” Latimer forwarded a memorandum to R. Jack Smith, November 18, tasking the CIA with the request for a biography of Kim and an analysis of his prospects. (Ibid.) For a summary of the assessment, see Document 83.