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President Kim Dae-jung [1998-2003]

President Kim Dae-jung  [1998-2003]President Kim Dae-jung [1924-2009] of the Republic of Korea was a courageous champion of democracy and human rights. President Kim risked his life to build and lead a political movement that played a crucial role in establishing a dynamic democratic system in the Republic of Korea. His service to his country, his tireless efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, and his personal sacrifices on behalf of freedom are inspirational and should never be forgotten.

Kim was President from 1998-2003 and in 2000 received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his struggle for democracy and human rights in South Korea and his efforts at reconciliation with North Korea. A close friend of the United States, he played a historic role in Korea's democratization. His "Sunshine Policy" toward North Korea marked a profound shift in South Korean sentiment toward North Korea and transformed inter-Korean relations.

In the 1980s, some of the greatest heroes of freedom were the political prisoners of repressive regimes -- Lech Walesa in Poland, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Kim Dae-jung, who faced a death sentence in South Korea after years of unjust and brutal treatment bythe government. How very different things were a decde later. Lech Walesa was elected Poland's President; Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela wee the Presidents of their countries; and Kim Dae-jung was President, after the first ever democratic change of power from the governing party to the opposition in the 50-year history of theRepublic of Korea. After spending years in prison and exile, Kim was elected president in 1997. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to improve ties with North Korea.

Kim Dae-jung was born on December 3, 1925 on Haui-do, an impoverished island in Jeolla province, southwestern Korea. Kim Dae-Jung was a farmer's son. He graduated from Mokpo Commercial High School in 1943. Through enterprise and hard work he became president of a successful shipping company. He entered politics in 1954 and was elected to South Korea's National Assembly in 1961, but, 3 days after the election, a military coup dissolved the legislative body. He became an activist in the country's democracy movement.

A dynamic speaker and charismatic personality, Kim rose to national prominence when he spearheaded the 1969 parliamentary effort to block Park Chung-hee from an unconstitutional third term as President. The effort failed, but Kim gained enough political momentum to run as the 1971 New Democratic Party presidential candidate against Park. Kim ran a strong campaign but eventually lost to Park, who used obstructionist tactics and illegal electioneering practices.

In 1971, he was an opposition candidate for president against South Korea's authoritarian ruler President Park Chung-hee. Kidnapped by South Korean security agents in 1973, he narrowly escaped assassination. Agents of authoritarian President Park Chung-hee kidnapped him in punishment for his public criticism of the government. In October 2009 South Korea's spy agency confessed to kidnapping former president Kim Dae-jung in Tokyo while he was an opposition politician in 1973.

A report said then-president Park Chung-hee had given at least his tacit approval. The National Intelligence Services report was the agency's first acknowledgment of involvement in the incident. The report did not draw a clear conclusion over whether its predecessor, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, ultimately planned to kill Kim. The NIS found Japan partly responsible for the kidnapping. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the claim of Japanese responsibility is unacceptable. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda expressed regret that South Korea violated Japan's sovereignty.

He was freed under heavy diplomatic pressure by the United States. Banned from politics and imprisoned, he was sentenced to death by a military court under the regime of Chun Doo-hwan in 1980. US pressure would also play a role in getting Mr. Kim's death sentence commuted to a prison term of 20 years during the presidency of Chun Doo-hwan. The US Government worked to save Kim Dae-jung's life and in harboring him in exile. In Korea, many still blame the U.S. for not preventing the Korean police response to the 1980 Gwangju Uprising but were woefully uneducated about the US role in arguing for Kim's pardon after he was sentenced to death by former President Chun Doo-hwan. He was later allowed to leave the country and settled for a time in the United States.

In 1985 he returned to South Korea as a principle leader of the democracy movement. On February 25, 1998 he was inaugurated as the fifteenth President of the Republic of Korea. He is credited with helping South Korea recover from the brink of bankruptcy during the Asian financial crisis. In economic reform terms, he used the IMF financial crisis to push through a lot of unpopular measures to improve transparency in terms of bank lending and corporate accounting and broke up some of the chaebols, and the economic landscape is very different now than what it was in 1997, and that is due to a large extent to his economic reforms.

During his presidency he worked tirelessly for reconciliation and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Dae-jung may be best remembered around the world for the groundbreaking photographic images of him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il holding hands during the June 2000 inter-Korean summit. In a speech at the time, Mr. Kim said he believed strongly in a future in which North and South Korea cooperate, reconcile, and reunify. The 2000 summit thawed nearly half a century of chilled relations between the two halves of the peninsula, since a 1953 armistice paused their three-year war. During the 2000 summit, nothing in the formal agenda indicated Kim Jong Il would personally greet President Kim Dae-jung at his airport arrival.

President Kim deserves credit for changing the peninsula's political climate. Mr. Kim and his government removed the Cold War atmosphere from the Korean peninsula, and created what he calls a post-modern era for the region. Mr. Kim went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in arranging the meeting, although the achievement would later be tainted by allegations that South Korea gave the North $500 million to agree to it. Mr. Kim followed up on the summit with what he called the "sunshine" policy of pouring massive amounts of aid and investment into the North while demanding very little in return. North-South contacts expanded dramatically, and hundreds of families that had been separated by the war got a chance to hold brief reunions.

No formal North-South reunion program existed until the historic 2000 summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans are desperate to see relatives before they become too elderly to make the trip. About 127,000 Koreans have registered for possible reunions, having been isolated from direct relatives during the decades of cold war between the two sides. Most are now elderly, and say they desperately long for a chance to see family members again before they die.

But the sunshine policy, which Mr. Kim's successor, President Roh Moo-hyun, also followed, failed to prevent North Korea from developing and testing a nuclear weapon. Critics of President Kim's policy say it failed to bring about any substantive change in the North. Human-rights activists faulted Mr. Kim for his near total silence on systematic human-rights abuses there.

In 2002 Kim Dae-jung stepped down from his ruling party and apologized to the South Korean public for an influence-peddling scandal swirling around his sons. The reputation of the 77-year-old leader may be tarnished, but he can nevertheless claim credit for a long list of accomplishments. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said he and his wife were in agony over the corruption allegations that led to his resignation from South Korea's governing Millennium Democratic Party which he founded.

According to local media, Seoul prosecutors confirmed that a businessman and former aide at the center of a highly-publicized bribery scandal gave more than $230,000 to President Kim Dae-jung's youngest son, Kim Hong-gul, who was in the United States. The funds were allegedly payments for steering lucrative deals to the businessman's clients. His other sons, Kim Hong-up and Kim Hong-il, had also been implicated in a graft case, and political analysts said one of the three is likely to end up in prison. Mr. Kim himself had not been accused of any wrongdoing and distanced himself from the prosecutors in charge of the probes.

Kim Dae-jung died 18 August 2009 in Seoul at the age of 85. He had been hospitalized since last month for pneumonia. Mr. Kim was credited with ushering a new era of reconciliation with wartime enemy North Korea. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak issued a statement saying the country has lost a "great political leader" whose "aspirations to achieve democratization and inter-Korean reconciliation will long be remembered by the people."

The public reaction to the death of former President Kim Dae-jung was somber and lacked the anger and anti-government sentiment that followed former President Roh Moo-hyun's death. Media coverage of Kim's death focused on his compelling life story and has featured the U.S. role in saving Kim's life -- a story unknown to many Koreans.

A State Funeral is sponsored by the government, entails up to nine days of mourning, and the funeral day is declared a national holiday. A People's Funeral is partly funded by the government and the mourning period is seven days. The government recommended a public funeral citing the precedents of former Presidents Choi Kyu-ha and Roh Moo-hyun, but Kim's family and the main opposition Democratic Party demanded a state funeral instead. Only Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in office, had been accorded a State Funeral. The state funeral for former President Kim Dae-jung was held 23 August 2009, following six days of mourning, when he was laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong in southern Seoul.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2015 18:42:19 ZULU