Chun sought talks with Pyongyang, papers show

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Chun sought talks with Pyongyang, papers show

Declassified foreign affairs documents from 1984 that were revealed on Monday described how the South Korean government planned to facilitate contact with North Korea and China via Japan. The move was not favored by Washington.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled 1,597 documents, or more than 260,000 pages, which were obtained by the Japanese Embassy. Among other subjects, the material dealt with the first inter-Korean economic dialogue, the U.S. Embassy’s move to Korea, President Chun Doo Hwan’s visit to Japan, and intelligence on the possible retirement of Kim Il Sung.

One document, in particular, noted President Chun Doo Hwan’s visit to Tokyo in September 1984, the first trip to Japan by a South Korean leader since both nations normalized bilateral ties.

On Sept. 19, following his trip and as a follow-up measure, Chun ordered deliberation over a plan to make contact with Pyongyang a priority, according to a Foreign Ministry document.

A document from November that year detailed that, ahead of the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the Chun administration had pushed for communication among South Korea, North Korea, China and Japan.

Chun encouraged contact with Pyongyang through Tokyo, in cooperation with Beijing, noting that talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone had gone well during his visit to Japan.

At that time, Nakasone was close with senior politician Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party, and Sino-Japanese relations were healthy.

The South Korean government on Dec. 1, 1984, communicated the plan to Prime Minister Nakasone through diplomatic channels and requested contact with China’s highest-ranking officials.

But Seoul also secretly sought feedback from the United States.

Washington’s response was lukewarm and it did not believe it was realistic to think China would accept the proposal.

On Dec. 7, Richard Walker, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul at the time, told the South Korean government that it was likely that Pyongyang would reject the offer and that the time was not yet ripe for a direct exchange between China and South Korea.

In response, Chun sent a letter to U.S. President Ronald Reagan asking for support for his plans to reach out to Pyongyang. Yet, Reagan responded that it was important to take into consideration the right time frame for such communication.

Another document from 1984 indicated that one Japanese emperor had for the first time expressed regret for Tokyo’s transgressions during World War II.

In preparation for Chun’s first state visit to Tokyo, one key consideration was whether Japanese Emperor Hirohito would issue an apology for Japan’s wrongdoings during the war, according to Foreign Ministry documents.

One document described that Emperor Hirohito had conveyed on Sept. 6, 1984, at a welcoming dinner that the history between the two countries was “very regrettable” and that it “should not be repeated.”

The Korean government said it was “significant that the Japanese emperor had expressed regret for [Japan’s] past” when meeting with Chun.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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