Kim Dae-jung

Kim Dae-jung (Korean: 김대중; Hanja: 金大中; Korean pronunciation: [kim.dɛ.dʑuŋ]; 6 January 1924  18 August 2009), was a South Korean politician who served as President of South Korea from 1998 to 2003. He was a 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea and Japan. He is also the only Korean to have won the Nobel Prize to date.[2] He was sometimes referred to as "the Nelson Mandela of Asia".[3] Kim was the first opposition candidate to win the presidency.

His Excellency

Kim Dae-jung
Official portrait, 1998
8th (15th-term) President of South Korea
In office
25 February 1998  24 February 2003
Prime MinisterKim Jong-pil
Park Tae-joon
Lee Han-dong
Chang Sang
Chang Dae-whan
Kim Suk-soo
Preceded byKim Young-sam
Succeeded byRoh Moo-hyun
President of the Millennium Democratic Party
In office
20 January 2000  8 November 2001
Preceded byPosition established (as President of the National Congress for New Politics)
Succeeded byHan Kwang-ok (acting)
President of the National Congress for New Politics
In office
5 September 1995  20 January 2000
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished (as President of the Millennium Democratic Party)
Member of the National Assembly
In office
30 May 1988  19 December 1992
ConstituencyProportional Representation
In office
1 July 1971  17 October 1972
ConstituencyProportional Representation
In office
17 December 1963  30 June 1971
ConstituencyMokpo (South Jeolla)
In office
14 May 1961  16 May 1961
ConstituencyInje (Gangwon)
Personal details
Born(1924-01-06)6 January 1924
Hauido, Japanese Korea
Died18 August 2009(2009-08-18) (aged 85)
Seoul, South Korea
Resting placeSeoul National Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Cha Yong-ae
(m. 1945; died 1959)

Lee Hee-ho
(m. 1962)
EducationMokpo Commercial High School
AwardsNobel Peace Prize (2000)
Philadelphia Liberty Medal (1999)
ReligionRoman Catholic (Christian Name: Thomas More)
Kim Dae-jung or Kim Dae Jung
Revised RomanizationGim Dae(-)jung
McCune–ReischauerKim Taejung
Pen name
Revised RomanizationHugwang[1]

Early life

Kim Dae-Jung was born on 6 January 1924,[4] but he later edited his birth date to 3 December 1925 to avoid conscription under Japanese colonial rule. Kim was the second of seven children. Kim was born in Sinan in what was then the Jeolla province; the city is now in Jeollanam-do. Kim's family had moved to the nearby port city of Mokpo so that he could finish high school. He had to change his name to Japanese Toyota Taichū (豊田大中), because Japan had conducted name-changing program from Korean names to Japanese names, during the Japanese colonial period.

Kim graduated from Mokpo Commercial Middle School in 1943, and then he worked as a clerk at a Japanese-managed shipping company. After Korea was liberated by the Allied Forces, he was elected its manager. During the Korean War, Kim was captured by North Korean communists and was sentenced to be shot, though he managed to escape.[5]

Early political career

Kim disposed his business, and entered politics in earnest from Mokpo in 1954 during the administration of Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee. From 1954 to 1960, he was defeated four times in elections. Although he was elected as a representative for the National Assembly on May 14, Park Chung-hee seized power in the May 16 coup, who later assumed dictatorial powers, voided the elections.[5] He was able to win a seat in the House in the subsequent elections in 1963 and 1967 and went on to become an eminent opposition leader. As such, he was the natural opposition candidate for the country's presidential election in 1971. He nearly defeated Park despite several handicaps on his candidacy that were imposed by the ruling regime.[6]

A very talented orator, Kim could command unwavering loyalty among his supporters. His staunchest support came from the Jeolla region, where he reliably garnered upwards of 95% of the popular vote, a record that has remained unsurpassed in South Korean politics.

While campaigning for legislative elections in 1971, a month after the presidential election, a truck turned directly into the path of his car and seriously injured him and his two aides. He was left with a permanent limp for the rest of his life. It has been suspected that the collision was an assassination attempt by the Park regime.[7]

Kidnapping by KCIA

Kim was almost killed in August 1973, when he was kidnapped from a hotel in Tokyo by KCIA agents in response to his criticism of President Park's yushin program, which granted near-dictatorial powers. Years later, Kim reflected on these events during his 2000 Nobel Peace Prize lecture:

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane was sent down from Heavens by the almighty God Himself to rescue me from the moment of death.

Kim Dae-jung[8]

Philip Habib, the US ambassador in Seoul, had interceded for him with the South Korean government; the "airplane" referred to was a patrol plane from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force which was tracking the kidnappers.[9]

Although Kim returned to South Korea, he was banned from politics and imprisoned in 1976 for having participated in the proclamation of an anti-government manifesto and sentenced for five years in prison, which was reduced to house arrest in 1978.[6] During this period, he was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[10]

Kim had his political rights restored in 1979 after Park was assassinated.

Death sentence and exile

In 1980, Kim was arrested and sentenced to death on charges of sedition and conspiracy in the wake of another coup by Chun Doo-hwan and a popular uprising in Gwangju, his political stronghold.[11]

Pope John Paul II sent a letter to then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan on 11 December 1980, asking for clemency for Kim, a Catholic,[12] and with the intervention of the United States government,[13] the sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison.

He was given exile in the U.S. and temporarily settled in Boston and taught at Harvard University as a visiting professor to the Center for International Affairs.[14] During his period abroad, he authored a number of opinion pieces in leading western newspapers that were sharply critical of the South Korean government. On 30 March 1983, Kim presented a speech on human rights and democracy at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the institution. Two years later, in 1985, he returned to his homeland.

Road to presidency

Kim was again put under house arrest upon his return to Seoul but resumed his role as one of the principal leaders of the opposition. When Chun Doo-hwan succumbed to the popular demand in 1987 and allowed the country's first free presidential election, Kim Dae-Jung and the other leading opposition figure, Kim Young-sam, initially promised to unite behind one candidate. However, a dispute between the two men made Kim Dae-Jung split from the main opposition party, the Reunification Democratic Party, and form the Peace Democratic Party to run for the presidency. As a result, the opposition vote was split into two, and the ex-General Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan's handpicked successor, won with only 36.5% of the popular votes. Kim Young-sam received 28% and Kim Dae-Jung 27% of the votes.

In 1992, Kim made yet another failed bid for the presidency, this time solely against Kim Young-sam, who had merged the RDP with the ruling Democratic Justice Party to form the Democratic Liberal Party, which eventually became the Grand National Party.[5] Many thought Kim Dae-Jung's political career to be effectively over when he took a hiatus from politics and departed for the United Kingdom to take a position at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, as a visiting scholar.[14] However, in 1995, he announced his return to politics and began his fourth quest for the presidency.

His situation became favorable when the public revolted against the incumbent government in the wake of the nation's economic collapse during the Asian financial crisis just weeks before the presidential election. Allied with Kim Jong-pil, he defeated Lee Hoi-chang, Kim Young-sam's designated successor, in the election held on 18 December 1997. His swearing-in as the eighth president of South Korea on 25 February 1998 marked the first time in Korean history that the ruling party peacefully transferred power to a democratically-elected opposition winner.[5][15] The election was marred with controversy, as two candidates from the ruling party split the conservative vote (38.7% and 19.2% respectively), which enabled Kim to win with only 40.3% of the popular vote.[16] Kim's main opponent, Lee Hoi-chang, was a former Supreme Court Justice and had graduated at the top of his class from Seoul National University School of Law. Lee was widely viewed as elitist, and his candidacy was further damaged by charges that his sons had dodged the mandatory military service.

Kim's education, in contrast, was limited to vocational high school, and many Koreans sympathized with the many trials and tribulations that he had endured. In 1997, the "North Winds" scandal involved lawmakers of Lee's party, who met North Korean agents in Beijing, who agreed to instigate, in exchange for bribes, a skirmish on the DMZ right before the presidential election to try to cause a panic that would hamper Kim Dae-Jung's campaign.[17][18][19] Lee's colleagues were later prosecuted.[20]

Ex-presidents Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan, Roh Tae-woo, and Kim Young-sam originated from the Gyeongsang region, which became wealthier since 1945 partly because of the policies of Park, Chun, and Roh's regimes. Kim Dae-Jung was the first president to serve a full term who came from the southwestern Jeolla region, an area that had been neglected and less developed, at least partly because of the previous presidents' discriminatory policies. Kim's administration included more individuals from Jeolla, which led to charges of reverse discrimination. However, the actual numbers of ministers and administrators of Kim's government from Jeolla indicate that they were not overrepresented.

Presidency term (1998–2003)

During his presidency, he introduced South Korea's contemporary welfare state,[21][22][23] successfully shepherded the country's economic recovery, brought in a new era of economic transparency and fostered a greater role for South Korea in the world stage, including the FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002. Kim completed his 5-year presidential term in 2003 and was succeeded by Roh Moo-hyun. A presidential library at Yonsei University was built to preserve Kim's legacy, and there is a convention center named after him in the city of Gwangju, the Kim Dae-jung Convention Center.

Economic achievements

Greeting United States President Bill Clinton (left) at APEC meeting in Auckland, 12 September 1999
Kim Dae-Jung in 1998

Kim Dae-jung took office in the midst of the economic crisis that hit South Korea in the final year of Kim Young-sam's term. He vigorously pushed economic reform and restructuring recommended by the International Monetary Fund, in the process significantly altering the landscape of South Korean economy. He commenced the Gold-collecting campaign in South Korea to overcome the debt to the International Monetary Fund.[24][5][25][26] After the economy shrank by 5.8 percent in 1998, it grew 10.2 percent in 1999.[3] In effect, his policies were to make for a fairer market by holding the powerful chaebol (conglomerates) accountable, e.g., greater transparency in accounting practices. State subsidies to large corporations were dramatically cut or dropped. And Kim Dae-jung administration built up country-wide high-speed ICT infrastructure and fostered IT and Venture Businesses as the future source of growth.[27][28]

North Korea policy

In February 2001, Russian president Vladimir Putin dined with Kim Dae-Jung.

His policy of engagement with North Korea has been termed the Sunshine Policy.[3] He moved to begin détente with respect to the totalitarian government in North Korea, which culminated in a historic summit meeting in 2000 in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. This marked a critical juncture in inter-Korean relations. On 13 October 2000, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts.[29] A big consequence of these efforts is that on September 15, 2000, the Korean Unification Flag(Korean: 통일기; Hanja: 統一旗; RR: Tong-ilgi; MR: T'ong'ilgi) was carried into an Olympic Stadium during an Olympic opening ceremony for the first time. However, the historic event was tainted significantly by allegations that at least several hundred million dollars had been paid to North Korea. This is the Cash-for-summit scandal. Hyundai transferred $500 million to the North just months before the summit, triggering criticism that S.Korean Government paid for the summit. Hyundai claimed the money was a payment for exclusive business rights in electric power facilities, communication lines, an industrial park, cross-border roads and railway lines in North Korea. And in this regard, Park Jie-won was charged with violating domestic laws on foreign exchange trade and inter-Korean cooperation affairs while orchestrating covert money transfers by Hyundai to North Korea. Mr. Park played a pivotal role in arranging the first Inter-Korean summit. In May 2006, he was sentenced for three years in prison. Park was released in February 2007, and pardoned in December 2007.[30] Also in order to persuade North Korea to attend the summit, several "unconverted long-term prisoners" kept by South Korea were released and returned to North Korea.[31]

Relationship with former Presidents

After Kim achieved the presidency and moved into the Blue House, there was uncertainty and considerable speculation about how he would handle the office. He had been sentenced to death by Chun Doo Hwan. Chun and his successor Roe Tae Woo had been sentenced by Kim Dae Jung's predecessor President Kim Young Sam. Kim Dae Jung pardoned Chun.


In 1999, the Furgate scandal damaged Kim Dae-jung and his party's reputation.[32][33][34]


Kim called for restraint against the North Koreans for detonating a nuclear weapon and defended the continued Sunshine Policy towards Pyongyang to defuse the crisis. He also received an honorary doctorate at the University of Portland on 17 April 2008 where he delivered his speech, "Challenge, Response, and God."[35]

Illness and death

A roadside memorial for Kim Dae-jung

Kim died on 18 August 2009 at 13:43 KST, at Severance Hospital of Yonsei University in Seoul.[36] He was first admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia on 13 July. The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.[7] An interfaith state funeral was held for him on 23 August 2009 in front of the National Assembly Building, with a procession leading to the Seoul National Cemetery where he was interred according to Catholic traditions. He is the second person in South Korean history to be given a state funeral after Park Chung-hee.[37] North Korea sent a delegation to his funeral.[38]

See also

  • Liberalism in South Korea
  • Cash-for-summit scandal
  • KT (film)
  • List of Korean Nobel laureates


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Political offices
Preceded by
Kim Young-sam
President of South Korea
Succeeded by
Roh Moo-hyun
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