Foreign Policy

South Korea Table of Contents

United States

One of the most salient elements of the Chun regime was its close ties with the Reagan administration. This was in sharp contrast to the strained Washington-Seoul relationship under presidents Carter and Park, when the United States government had criticized Park's dictatorial policies and attempted to implement Carter's campaign pledge to withdraw United States ground combat troops from South Korea. The relationship also had been strained because of the 1977 Koreagate scandal.

Reagan provided unmitigated support to Chun and to South Korea's security. Chun was Reagan's first official guest in the White House. Reagan reaffirmed his support of Chun by visiting Seoul in November 1983.

While Reagan's support considerably buttressed Chun's stature in domestic politics and the international arena, it also fueled the subculture of anti-Americanism. The opposition forces in South Korea, suffering from the government's stringent suppression, denounced United States' support for the Chun regime as a callous disregard for human rights and questioned the United States' motives in Korea. The past image of the United States as a staunch supporter of democracy in South Korea was replaced with that of defender of its own interests, a policy impervious to injustices committed in South Korea. This view was accentuated by the fact that Chun's White House visit occurred only several months after the Martial Law Command had brutally suppressed the student uprising in Kwangju. (It was later revealed by Richard V. Allen, National Security Advisor to President Reagan, that Chun's visit was part of Washington's diplomatic effort to spare the life of Kim Dae Jung who had been sentenced to death.) This atmosphere led some of South Korea's radical elements to take extreme measures, such as arson committed at the United States Information Service building in Pusan in March 1982 and the occupation of the United States Information Service Library in Seoul in May 1985. Students who demonstrated against the Chun government invariably carried anti-American slogans.


The Chun government also brought about a significant change in South Korea's relations with Japan. In 1981 Chun utilized the United States' support and its strategy of allocating greater responsibility to Japan in the East Asian region to persuade Tokyo to grant Seoul a large public loan. The negotiations lasted until early 1983 and aroused many conflicting emotions in both countries. However, Chun was able to obtain a US$4 billion low-interest loan that significantly contributed to boosting South Korea's credit rating and to accelerating its economic recovery; Seoul's foreign debt had reached US$41 billion at the end of 1983 and was badly in need of an improved credit rating. Japanese prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro capped the negotiation process by paying a state visit to Seoul in January 1983. While other Japanese prime ministers had visited Seoul for inaugurations or funerals, this was the first state visit to South Korea by a Japanese leader since the country was liberated from Japan in 1945.

China and the Soviet Union

Chun continued Park's policy of improving relations with China and the Soviet Union and attached considerable importance to these two countries, long the allies of North Korea. Beijing and Moscow were thought to have much influence in charting the future of the Korean Peninsula and were thus a part of Nordpolitik.

Seoul's official contact with Beijing was facilitated by the landing of a hijacked Chinese civilian airliner in May 1983. China sent a delegation of thirty-three officials to Seoul to negotiate the return of the airliner, marking the beginning of frequent exchanges of personnel. For example, in March 1984, a South Korean tennis team visited Kunming for a Davis Cup match with a Chinese team. In April 1984, a thirty-four-member Chinese basketball team arrived in Seoul to participate in the Eighth Asian Junior Basketball Championships. Some Chinese officials reportedly paid quiet visits to South Korea to inspect its industries, and South Korean officials visited China to attend various international conferences. Since China and South Korea began indirect trade in 1975, the volume has steadily increased.

The Soviet Union's unofficial relationship with South Korea began in 1973, when it permitted South Koreans to attend an international conference held in the Soviet Union. In October 1982, a Soviet official attended an international conference in South Korea on the preservation of cultural relics. The uproar following the Korean Air (KAL) 007 incident in September 1983, when the Soviet air force shot down the KAL passenger airplane, brought about a hiatus in contacts, but the unofficial relationship resumed in 1988.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress