Selling the case for relations with Japan
On March 20, 1964, I revisited Tokyo to finalize the deal to open diplomatic relations. I met with Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira and Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and reached an agreement that we would conclude the negotiations by holding additional talks in early April.
Tensions were on the rise in Seoul against any deal with Japan. On March 24, 1964, over 3,000 university students held a protest at Seoul National University over the Korean government seeking diplomatic normalization with its former colonizer. They adopted a resolution urging Korean officials to immediately withdraw from negotiations and return home. The protestors characterized me as a person willing to sell his country for the sake of money.
Tension was also escalating around the Hilton Hotel in Tokyo, where I was staying on March 25 to resume talks with my Japanese counterparts. There were about 400 Korean-Japanese students who belonged to an organization with close ties to North Korea called the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The police warned me that some had knives. I asked the police to bring two dozens protestors to my room so I could have a talk with them. One of the students selected began verbally attacking me right after he entered the room. Speaking in Japanese, he accused me of selling out the country for foreign capital and allowing the subjugation of the Korean economy by Japan. “Stop the negotiations,” the student said.
After listening to their arguments for some time, I blurted out, “You call me a traitor. But when you profess your love for your homeland, you can’t even say it in Korean.”
I continued, “You have no idea how backward your homeland is. If you want to see the reality, I will take you guys to Korea and to show you what it is like there. You and I are in totally different positions. I carried out a revolution [the 1961 coup by Park Chung Hee] in order to modernize Korea and therefore I take great responsibility for making it happen. I have no priorities other than making my country prosperous, a mission for which I have put my life on the line.”
The 20-some students began nodding and went down to the hotel lobby without causing trouble. When I also went down to the lobby, I saw the students who had come to my room in a brawl with other Korean-Japanese students, who must have thought they had been hoodwinked by my words.
On March 27, President Park Chung Hee told me to return to Korea. I was warned that there would be a huge protest rally at Gimpo International Airport against the diplomatic negotiations. I was determined to face the protestors and persuade them of the need to reopen diplomatic ties with Japan.
I called the authorities in Seoul and told them to prepare a microphone and an ambulance at the airport in case I was injured by protestors. I was determined to tell my side.
But when I arrived at the airport the next day, there was no rally. I thought I should visit university campuses, where much of the rallies protesting the diplomatic deal were taking place to directly convey my reasoning and logic for renormalizing relations with Tokyo.
On April 9, I visited the Education Department of Seoul National University, which I attended before I joined the military academy in my 20s. About 3,000 students were taking part in a heated discussion about their protest of the ongoing talks with Japan.
Standing before the students, I said, “Look at the geopolitical position our country is in. To our west, there is Communist China and to our North is the Soviet Union. To our south, there is nothing but a scattering of islands. We only have Japan to our east. In order for us to survive and become a prosperous nation, we must make the best out of Japan as a stepping stone to reach the rest of the world. I understand your anger toward Japan. But we have no choice but to form relations with them to survive. We can’t delay getting our compensation settlement from Tokyo to use it for the foundation of our economic growth. If we don’t, the future of our nation will be bleak.”
I also said diplomacy is, in essence, a series of compromises. “Without making compromises, nothing can be agreed upon,” I said. “But I never took a lowly position when discussing the amount of compensation in the settlement.”
My speech succeeded in making them understand the logic behind the government’s move to open diplomatic relations with Japan. I went on a tour of other university campuses delivering my defense for the negotiations.
While students seemed to understand the need to forge ties with Japan when they heard me out, the anti-treaty demonstration showed no sign of diminishing. Tens of thousands of students were in the streets demanding a withdrawal from the talks.
Years later, I would run into people who had hit the streets during their college years to protest against me. They often told me that they now understand my passion and sincere wish to make Korea prosperous by forging ties with Japan. I would tell them that I also knew they had great love for this country and that they and I only had different ways of expressing our love for it.
On June 3, over 15,000 students from 18 universities in Seoul took to the streets rallying against the Korea-Japan talks. It was the largest demonstration. They called for President Park Chung Hee’s resignation, even though he had been inaugurated only six months earlier. Sensing the situation could spiral out of control, Park declared martial law.
Judging that my resignation would be the only way to ease the escalating tensions, I rendered it to Park and said I would spend some time overseas. Park said, “Okay. Have some time overseas.” He accepted my resignation.
On June 18, I boarded a plane with my wife Park Young-ok and went globe-trotting.
COMPLIED BY CHUN YOUNG-GI, KANG JIN-KYU [email@example.com]