February 24, 1988
Democracy in South Korea
Q. With the inauguration of Mr. Roh Tae Woo, Korea will celebrate its first peaceful transfer of power. Since Korea has only experienced authoritarian rule, and not true democracy under a good or enlightened President, could you tell us the secret of being such a leader, and what can be done in Korea to bring expanded democracy?
The President. Over the past few decades, Korea has impressed the world with its economic miracle of rapid growth. In the past year, Korea has matched that economic progress with a kind of political miracle, setting a new course toward an open and democratic political system. The 1987 Presidential election marked an important milestone in that process. It is, however, important to remember that democracy is a process, not an end point. Americans value democracy, because it is a dynamic system that changes as a nation changes.
As you know, I met President-elect Roh in Washington last year. He impressed me as a man committed to the democratization of your country, because he knew that was what Koreans, including himself, wanted. I understand that President-elect Roh likes to refer to his having big ears. That is really the key to leadership in a democratic society. You have to listen carefully before you make decisions. Sometimes -- especially when you have a wide-open election year as we have now -- some may not like the results, but accept them and understand the different ways in which others see problems.
South Korea-U.S. Trade
Q. In a political sense we expect closer cooperation between the United States and the new Korean government, but economically (trade) we expect increased tensions in the short term. What can be done to keep these tensions under control so that this area tracks the political area?
The President. Korea and the United States are longtime allies and friends. The relationship has become closer, stronger, and more complex over the years. You are now our seventh-largest trading partner. Korean and American businessmen routinely visit one [an]other. We have a growing Korean-American community living in our country. All of these trends are very positive, yet sometimes overlooked.
Change has also brought some new stresses -- notably in the trade and exchange rate areas. There are real problems. Working together, as we have done for so many years in other areas, I am sure that we can solve these issues. The key is remembering that it is in our mutual interest to find good solutions. Participation in the international open-market system that has enabled Koreans to prosper has both benefits and responsibilities. Korea must be willing to accept responsibilities commensurate with its new, increased role in the international economic system.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula
Q. Could you characterize how the recent improvement in U.S. relations with the Soviets can contribute to reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula? In the coming U.S.-Soviet summit would you encourage the Soviet leader to play a more active role in restraining or completely stopping North Korea's terrorist actions, including jeopardizing the 1988 Seoul Olympics?
The President. The United States and Soviet Union and everyone else in the region should be cooperating to reduce tensions on the Peninsula, as well as in the world as a whole. We hope that improved U.S.-Soviet relations will help move things in that direction and, of course, improve the situation in other areas of the world, too.
The key problem in Korea is North Korea's proclivity to use violence. The world was shocked again by the recent murder of 115 innocent people aboard KAL 858 by North Korea. A successful incident-free Olympics in Seoul this September is in everyone's interest. The prospect of North Korean -- or anyone else's -- attempts to disrupt the games through violence is a danger that we and the Soviets can agree to work against.
We hope that Moscow will use its close relations with Pyongyang to urge moderation and to encourage the resumption of direct North-South contacts on practical ways to reduce tension. It is time for the North to eschew violence and get down to the serious business of resuming dialog with Seoul. If it does, it may be able to join in the peace, progress, and prosperity other nations in the region have begun to share.
South Korea-Eastern Bloc Relations
Q. How do you assess possible diplomatic initiatives of the new Korean Government toward the East bloc, including the Soviet Union? Is there a role for the United States to play in helping improve Korean-East bloc relations?
The President. In recent years the Republic of Korea has made some progress in expanding contacts with the Eastern bloc. The Olympics will emphasize how this has happened. Continued progress in this direction is inevitable since Korea has so much to offer -- products and expertise in the economics of free-enterprise industrialization. We support further movement and further opening in whatever appropriate ways that Korea may ask.
South Korea-U.S. Relations
Q. What are the chances for a U.S.-Korean summit with Mr. Roh Tae Woo, either in Washington or Seoul, and when could that take place?
The President. We have a close alliance with Korea and always welcome the opportunity for such discussions. Our people meet and share views all the time. Talk now of the details of summits and such seems a bit premature, since President-elect Roh is only now being sworn in and is busy setting up his new administration.
Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on February 29.