|South Korea Table of Contents
Relations with North Korea
Even though the Korean War ended in a truce agreement in July 1953, a high level of tension remained between the two countries. Although North Korea presented numerous proposals for peaceful unification after signing the truce, none was premised on the notion of the continuation of the existing South Korean government, which made the proposals unacceptable to Seoul.
Throughout the Park era, relations with North Korea were marked by mutual distrust and discord, with only a brief respite between July 1972 and June 1973 when the two sides engaged in high-level negotiations. Hopes were raised that tensions might be reduced and a way toward unification of the divided nation found. Entrenched suspicions made the contentious issues separating the two sides even more difficult to solve, and the talks were broken off. Meanwhile, the armed confrontation continued.
The continuing failure of the negotiations reflected the depth of the gap separating the two Koreas--particularly noteworthy in view of the mellowing international environment evidenced, for example, by China's much-improved relations with both the United States and Japan. There were indications that both China and the United States exerted considerable influence on the Korean negotiations, but without marked effect. Leaders in the north and the south found their ideologies and aims totally incompatible. South Korea's leaders were determined to keep their society free from communism, while North Korea's leaders were committed to the cause of bringing "people's democratic revolution" to the south.
Relations with Japan
The most important development in South Korea's diplomacy under Park was the normalization of relations with Japan. Although South Korea had traded with Japan since 1948 and the two countries had engaged in negotiations since 1951, disagreement on a number of issues had prevented diplomatic ties. The junta under Park actively sought to normalize relations. Negotiations resumed in October 1961, culminating in an agreement in June 1965 to establish diplomatic relations. Park settled for a fraction of the "reparations" earlier demanded by Rhee, and Japanese fishermen were given access to South Korean waters outside of the three-mile territorial limit (Rhee had prohibited Japanese fishermen from coming any closer than the medial line between Japan and Korea). Under the treaty, the Japanese government was to provide the capital necessary for an industrialization program and to open up ever-increasing loans, investments (both public and private), and trade. The treaty normalizing relations was denounced as a sellout by the opposition and the intellectuals and touched off prolonged, widespread student demonstrations.
South Korean-Japanese relations since normalization have been amicable, but were considerably strained by the abduction from Tokyo of Kim Dae Jung in August 1973, which resulted in long and embarrassing negotiations. In 1979 South Korean-Japanese relations entered a new era as the two countries began informal ties on defense matters, such as the establishment of the Korean-Japanese Parliamentary Conference on Security Affairs.
Relations with the United States
South Korea continued to depend on United States military assistance. In spite of initial United States hesitation about supporting Park in 1961, the two countries maintained close economic, military, and diplomatic ties. South Korea dispatched combat troops to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in 1965 to augment United States forces there, and President Lyndon B. Johnson paid a personal visit to Seoul in October 1966 to show his appreciation.
Friction began to develop in the Washington-Seoul relationship after the United States withdrew one of its two divisions from South Korea in 1971 and intensified after Park instituted rigorous authoritarian measures under his 1972 constitution. This tension led to an accelerated effort by the Park government to gain support in the United States Congress. The methods used by Seoul's lobbyists ultimately resulted in the embarrassing "Koreagate" affair of 1977, involving former Ambassador Kim Dong-jo and rice dealer Park Tong Sun. Investigations by the Ethics Committee and by the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives received much press coverage and weakened United States support for South Korea.
During his presidential election campaign in 1976, Jimmy Carter pledged, if elected, to withdraw all combat troops from South Korea. His victory aggravated United States-South Korean relations considerably. In March 1977, the United States decided to withdraw its ground combat forces over a four-to-five year period. Some 3,600 troops subsequently were withdrawn, but further reductions were suspended in 1979. In the meantime, President Carter and the Congress continued to press for the improvement of the human rights climate in South Korea. Relations between the two countries were at a low point in 1979, just before Park's assassination. In early 1981, President Ronald Reagan's administration announced that further withdrawals were not being considered.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress