Kim Dae-Jung

Kim Dae-Jung

The life and times of recently deceased former president of South Korea, Kim Dae-Jung.

Kim Dae-Jung, who died on August 18th, 2009 of natural causes, will be remembered as one of South Korea’s principal voices for liberty and moderation. Born in 1925, he had a long and often very difficult political career, encompassing such personal disasters as being kidnapped and being sentenced to death. He was able to overcome these difficulties and achieved the presidency after several unsuccessful attempts to be elected. He ruled from 1998-2003. In addition to his personal ideology, which was informed by such factors as having been born in the little-regarded south-western Cholla region and the autocratic and often repressive Korean regime in the wake of the 1950-3 Civil War, Kim was motivated by his personal religious beliefs and he became a Roman Catholic in 1957. One at least one occasion, the pope interceded on his behalf with Korean officials outraged by his unwillingness to accept vicious dictatorship and oppression of the Korean people. It was rather a misfortune for him that he became president in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, which was a predecessor of the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis but which was treated very differently. Now, from the USA to Europe and across the world, governments have been active in borrowing the huge amounts of money necessary to stabilize economies by providing jobs, developing the infrastructure and other measures to stave off full-scale recession. Back in 1997, however, western institutions led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF – or I’m Fired as it became known in Korea) blamed the countries affected for ‘crony capitalism’ and insisted on widespread and wholly unnecessary company closures, forcible (and disastrous) opening of the country to foreign investment, ending of social security programs and other policies which, if they were now being inflicted on American or European countries, would lead to riots and civil unrest. Poor Kim, therefore, had to permit the IMF to impose these policies upon the people of his country and, although his sympathizers remained with him, his popularity as an individual never really recovered. This spread a cloud over his real interests, which were to promote the ‘Sunshine Policy’ towards the recalcitrant North Korean regime with a view to bringing about reconciliation, ending the sporadic fighting and attempts to destabilize the south and, perhaps, in the long term, bring about the ultimate goal of reunification. Implementing the Sunshine Policy required large amounts of state resources and the cooperation of the private sector (the Korean model of development, in very simple terms, empowered large companies to enact state policies), both of which were heavily damaged by the aftermath of the 1997 crisis. He continued to act as a voice of moderation in the years after leaving office and received some respect for doing so. Yet what he hoped would be his legacy was undermined by events.

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