How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
It was only a few years ago that South Korea, wracked by poverty, political chaos and popular discontent, was widely regarded as a sinkhole of American aid. Now this small, ruggedly anti-communist country enjoys relative political stability and is making impressive economic progress. It has become one of the success stories of the United States assistance program. How did this startling reversal come about?
Officials familiar with South Korea's history since the war with the communist North insist that the ingredients for success had been there for a long time, however obscured they may have been in the dark days of the early 1960s. They are convinced that the apparent miracle is genuine and likely to continue, although as Assistant Secretary of State William P. Bundy has pointed out: "While Korea's achievements are considerable, its major problems require that they be kept in perspective."
Economic growth was at the rate of 7.6 percent annually over the 1962-67 period, with an 8.4 percent rise in 1967 and a surprising 13.1 percent for 1968, but it started from a very low base. The living standard is perceptibly rising, as indicated by the sale of new homes, television sets, refrigerators, more food and better clothes; but per capita income is still not much above $140 a year, deep pockets of poverty exist and the gap between urban and rural income has been growing. Although considerable progress has been made toward democracy, the overriding need for stability and order and the government's vigilant anti-communist policy lay a heavy hand across certain sectors of society. However, to those familiar with the spirit of defeatism that so long prevailed among the Korean people, the key element is a new feeling of self-reliance and self-assurance that has begun to pervade the country. "We can do it ourselves" has become the motto for a people who long were inclined to ask: "How can we ever succeed?"
The United States helped to pave the way by patient investment which kept this war-shattered nation supplied with food and other necessities, laid an infrastructure in a land almost devoid of natural resources, created educational opportunities, built several layers of experienced administrative personnel and ended Korea's international isolation. Political stability, painfully attained under the Park Chung Hee government after a period of crisis and strife, established a climate in which businessmen and others could look to the future, inflation could be checked and coördinated planning begun. Once the watershed was passed, momentum built up rapidly. Austerity and hard work paid off. Three years ago, the United States aid mission was expanding; now it is being rapidly reduced.
An unintended tribute to South Korea's progress is the intensified campaign of harassment and terror carried on since late 1966 by Kim II Sung's North Korean régime. Early in this decade, the Pyongyang government may well have felt it could afford to wait patiently until the South fell like ripe fruit into its hands. They can take this for granted no longer. The communist government, itself now in economic difficulties, has carried out a bristling rearmament program and Kim asserts that he intends to reunify the peninsula, by force if necessary, before the end of 1970.
The attempted raid on the Presidential mansion in Seoul by a carefully trained team of 31 North Korean agents in January of last year, closely followed by the seizure of the United States intelligence ship Pueblo, brought to world attention the intensification of the military confrontation that began when six American soldiers were deliberately slain from ambush by communist infiltrators during the visit of President Johnson in November 1966. The extent to which American military strength in Korea had been depleted because of priorities for Viet Nam was revealed during the Pueblo crisis. The modernization of South Korea's large forces had also long been lagging. Now that situation has been to a large extent corrected and the United Nations Command has repeatedly warned the North Koreans that their campaign of provocation and terror could have dire consequences. There is now little doubt that any overt North Korean attack across the demilitarized zone could provoke general war. Indeed many South Korean generals appear to hope that the North's provocations may provide an excuse for "hot pursuit all the way to the Yalu River." Officially, Seoul's objective is to build up the nation's economic and political strength until, in President Park's words last October, "it cannot be curbed at all and will overflow into North Korea, thus becoming a current for national unification."
That the Koreans are a tough, resilient people is attested by their preservation of a national identity and culture despite incursions over the centuries by the Mongols, Manchurians and Chinese. Japanese, Chinese and Russian armies fought over Korean soil, and from the turn of this century until 1945 Japan exercised a stern occupation rule that sought to stamp out national feelings and traditions. After World War II the country was cut in half, without reference to the wishes of its own people. The arbitrary division along the 38th Parallel separated the more industrialized North, with most of the country's natural resources, from the densely populated, largely agricultural South.
The savage war that raged for three years after the North Korean attack in June 1950 caused more than 800,000 military and civilian casualties among South Koreans, left property losses estimated at $3 billion and made 25 percent of the population homeless. In addition, the communists carried off 6,000 technicians and industrial managers to work in the North. An already poor country was made much poorer.
Even without the effects of the war, the South Koreans had major handicaps to overcome. Years of Japanese occupation had left a majority of the people illiterate in their own language. Subordination of native Koreans in the colonial régime meant that there were few trained and experienced administrators. But Japanese repression, instead of crushing Korean nationalism, stirred only a more intense patriotic feeling, channeled into oppositionist activity. Those who became Korea's leaders after 1945 had been in exile or had devoted themselves to resistance and had little experience in the positive aspects of governing. This experience, coupled with the outspoken, often contentious Korean character, meant that in the long reconstruction period much of the national energy was spent in political feuding and infighting.
Since the Panmunjom armistice settlement of 1953, the United States has provided more than $3.6 billion in aid to Korea. This has been supplemented by funds from international aid programs and private charitable enterprises. In the immediate postwar period, emphasis necessarily was on relief-feeding people, and clothing and sheltering them-and on the repair of war damage. With this went efforts to lay the foundation for eventual economic and industrial development.
By 1957 much of the war damage had been repaired; the economic growth rate averaged 5.3 percent annually from 1954 to 1957. But as the régime of the aging President Syngman Rhee became a prey to corruption, repression and mismanagement, this rate dropped to 3.6 percent in the 1958-61 period and was largely nullified by the rapid rise in population. Discontent and poverty pushed the nation to the point of student revolution (1960) and the subsequent bloodless coup of 1961, in which a military junta dominated by Major-General Park Chung Hee displaced the inefficient and fumbling civil government headed by Dr. John M. Chang. Meanwhile, despite the political instability, the aid program was slowly achieving results, and in 1962, having concluded that a base had been constructed for an independent South Korean economy, the United States shifted emphasis. It selected five major areas of development designed to push the country toward an eventual self- supporting economy. These five priority areas were power, mining, transport and communications, key industries, and investment and agricultural credit.
Much of the credit for what has happened since then must go to the strong, stubbornly determined leadership of President Park. With the best of intentions but impeded by a lack of civil administrative and technical experience, his junta inaugurated an ambitious five-year economic plan in 1962. Initially this faltered and many of its projects had to be abandoned or deferred. The new régime also found itself embroiled in a number of scandals. Pressed by the United States, General Park converted his military régime into a nominally civilian government by general elections in 1963 and enlisted the aid and experience of many of the old-line politicians and bureaucrats who had previously been denounced and purged. Before the new administration could gather strength it drifted dangerously close to a crisis point in 1964, when economic deprivation and pent-up frustrations seemed to be pushing the populace toward revolution. But President Park refused to yield and stamped down hard on the activities of the students and intellectual dissidents; the crisis passed, a period of political stability followed, and a number of favorable elements finally coalesced to provide the long-awaited turn upward. Progress has been at an accelerating rate since then.
Contributing factors, in addition to American help in building an industrial base, were the mood of stability following the establishment of strong political rule and the resulting feeling in the government as well as business that they could plan ahead. Control of what had threatened to become runaway inflation in 1963 and 1964, and the gradual elimination of distortions in the economy, brought long-needed incentives into play. Savings were encouraged. The opportunity to make money has increasingly attracted the large-scale foreign investment needed for industrial development.
American officials almost uniformly profess admiration for the native energy and talent of the Koreans. "We had to find several layers of technicians in government and develop an additional layer of competence in industry," said one high-ranking American in Seoul. "We could provide equipment but we had to wait for competence in personnel to develop. Now they've got competence. There's plenty of native initiative, and an almost kinetic energy, but without financing there was no way to apply their talents."
Finally, there was a general willingness to accept American aid at face value and welcome American assistance as well intentioned. South Koreans are anti-communist and in general pro-American, no matter what occasional frictions arise. Unlike some other Asian nations, the Seoul government did not accept American aid resentfully, looking uneasily for strings that might be attached.
That the economic and industrial spurt has continued unabated into this year despite North Korean threats and subversion is attributable to President Park's decision to press ahead resolutely on the economic front even while coöperating with the United States in taking strong measures for military security. There is no doubt that one aim of the Pyongyang government has been to create insecurity in the South, hinder economic planning and frighten off foreign investment. To some extent, its threats have succeeded in stirring uneasy feelings and fears among both the urban and rural populace. But the President has told the people that continuing the drive for prosperity is equally as important as military preparedness in thwarting the communists. In addition to promising that South Korea would repulse all aggression, he has warned that "if North Korea triggers an all-out attack on the South, we should counterattack immediately and take this opportunity to achieve national reunification, thus resolving, on our own initiative, the national tragedy of territorial division."
The possibility of a South Korean "over-reaction" to Northern provocations is one of the prospects that troubles the United Nations Command in Seoul This Command, under an American officer, General Charles H. Bonesteel 3d, has jurisdiction over the Republic of Korea forces in Korea, 550,000 strong, as well as the U.S. Eighth Army, about 50,000 strong. It has been the aim of the United States military to resist firmly all North Korean attempts to stir up trouble, but otherwise to "cool" the situation and maintain first priority for Viet Nam.
There have been periodic clashes with the North during what has become the world's longest military armistice. The Command nevertheless tended for many years to maintain a fairly relaxed attitude along the 155-mile-long demilitarized zone. Not so now. In years past it was assumed that the communists would not risk a general war, and American troops performing onerous and often dangerous duty in the front line dubbed Korea "the forgotten front." Now, however, the actions of Kim II Sung have led some observers to believe that he might indeed be tempted to try to unify the country by force. "It isn't enough to analyze his intentions: we have to make our plans on the basis of his known capability," one American officer said. That capability is strong.
The North Koreans have 350,000 men at or close to the front line, with 8 divisions along the demilitarized zone and 10 in reserve. There is a Red Guard militia of 1.2 million men to back them up. The air force has 500 jet aircraft, including probably 60 MIG-21s operating from underground hangars. The navy is thought to have 186 ships, including four submarines and 60 high-speed torpedo boats. There are known to be 66 surface-to-air missile sites. The army is said to have about 900 Soviet-built tanks and adequate artillery. Americans and South Koreans have the highest professional respect for the combat ability of these tough, highly trained and disciplined fighting men.
Since 1966 the North Koreans have stressed the training of guerrilla forces, according to the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency, which has played a leading role in anti-guerrilla operations. Units of 500 men have been established, each led by a major-general, each assigned to a specific province in the South. The men have undergone actual combat training in the demilitarized zone. The number of men available for infiltration missions into the South has recently been put at 30,000 to 40,000 by American officials. In December, Kim II Sung tightened his military control, purging his long-time Defense Minister, General Kim Chang Pong, and installing General Choi Hyon, generally regarded as the North's leading guerrilla warfare specialist.
The United Nations Command reported 543 serious incidents in the demilitarized zone in 1968, compared with 445 in the previous year. According to a South Korean spokesman, a total of 172 North Korean infiltrators were killed out of 1,087 who attempted to cross the line; most of the rest were presumed to have been driven back into the North. About 160 other agents and guerrillas were killed below the truce zone. The U.N. forces suffered more than 150 casualties. The resolution of the Pueblo incident, with North Korea returning the 82 surviving crewmen after accepting an already repudiated "apology" from the United States, had no apparent effect in alleviating the state of open confrontation. In a "1968 summary" speech at a meeting of the Military Armistice Commission, Major- General Gilbert H. Woodward of the United States declared that "Communist North Korea has made 1968 the bloodiest year in Korea since 1953" and charged that its aggressive activity "involved assassination, terror, cold- blooded murder, kidnapping, mutilation and brutal attacks against U.N. Command personnel."
Between October 30 and November 2, the North Koreans put ashore 120 agents from high-speed boats along the mountainous east coast area in what was believed to be a bold effort to lay a basis for an eventual campaign of guerrilla warfare on the Viet Nam model. By January 10, a total of 110 of these men had been killed and 7 captured, but the South Koreans were compelled to mobilize 40,000 regular soldiers and militiamen and initiate a large-scale security program to protect farm families from terrorism in the remote rural region. President Park has predicted that Pyongyang will increase its infiltration of guerrillas and agents, and U.S. analysts have expressed concern over what they believe may become a program of subversion patterned on that pursued by the Hanoi régime in South Viet Nam in the late 1950s prior to the outbreak of open warfare in Viet Nam.
But there are important differences between South Viet Nam and South Korea. Northern agents usually find themselves conspicuous and are quickly detected when they appear either in cities or in rural areas of the South. A system of high rewards for reporting enemy agents and severe penalties for concealing them has proved extremely effective: even family members returning to their old homes from the North after years of separation usually are turned in to the authorities. The Seoul government has announced that it has broken several large rings of agents, including one that operated on the big island of Cheju, fifty miles off the southern tip of the peninsula. Both Korean and American officials are convinced that the people of the South, with memories of the war years, will remain hostile to overtures from northern agents, but there is some nervousness about how the population would react to a widespread campaign of terror throughout the countryside.
In the rugged country north of Seoul, American and South Korean troops maintain a state of extreme alert. Since early 1968, defenses have been reinforced, all positions heavily sandbagged and another American brigade (from the Seventh Division) moved north of the broad Imjin River. A chain- link fence, electrified in many places, has been erected along much of the 155-mile line, backed up with minefields, tank traps and explosive charges. Electronic detection equipment has been brought in to slow the infiltration; bloodhounds also are used. A defense in depth, with new strongpoints constructed between the front line and the bustling city of Seoul, only 30 miles away, affirms the military's determination to prevent any repetition of 1950, when invading forces reached the capital in little more than a day. A ring of Hawk missiles has been installed around Seoul, which is only three-and-a-half minutes' jet time from the border.
Last summer there was considerable concern that the militant rulers in Pyongyang, misinterpreting the lack of a military response to the Pueblo seizure and the raid against the Presidential mansion, might stage an "Israeli-type" offensive in a chosen sector, bite off a chunk of territory, then call a halt and await the reaction, knowing that the United States, heavily committed in Viet Nam, wishes to avoid a serious involvement in Korea. This worry was strongest among South Korean staff officers, who lack much of the advanced equipment of the U.S. divisions, and whose men in the rainy season must often spend a disproportionate amount of time in maintenance and repair of installations, roads and bridges rather than in combat training. High officials in Korea believe that war came very close in January 1968, when success in the attempt to assassinate President Park might well have prompted the South Koreans to march north; nor do they discount the continuing danger.
However, General Bonesteel has kept his forces under strict orders to avoid escalation, and spokesmen in the Military Armistice Commission at Panmunjom regularly convey stern warnings to the communists that force will be met with force. The Seoul government feels that Pyongyang could not desire full- scale war in present circumstances, since this would be suicidal without outside help. The North Koreans could hardly want intervention again by Chinese forces. As for the Soviet Union, it must now be exercising whatever restraining influence it can on them; and however reckless they may be, this influence must be considerable since they rely on Moscow for supplies and weapons.
The South Korean armed forces are the third largest in the non-communist world. They include a 540,000-man army, a strong air force, a small but effective naval component and a 2 million-member militia force. The army has 19 active divisions, including the two serving in Viet Nam, and 10 in reserve. Its quality and capability are highly regarded by American advisers and its contingent in Viet Nam has demonstrated its toughness. However, low pay for its largely drafted servicemen, limited food rations and shortages of modern weapons and equipment raise complaints from top officers. The air force has more than 300 modern planes, including F-84s and F-86s and the F-5 Freedom Fighter. But delivery of F-4C Phantom jets from the United States, originally scheduled for 1968, has been postponed until probably the middle of 1969. Air defenses have been dramatically strengthened, however, by missiles and by a rapid build-up of American air power following the Pueblo incident. U.S. supersonic fighters are now dispersed at five major bases, many of them in concrete revetments.
High officials in Seoul, still uncertain over the motives for the Pueblo seizure and the raid on the President's Blue House, feel that in the long run these actions backfired by stimulating the strong reinforcement of South Korea's defenses. While they hope to keep the military situation damped down, they believe that in a combat situation they can cope with whatever forces the North Koreans may launch against them.
A rapid increase in foreign investment indicates that there is considerable international confidence in South Korea's military security, though some businessmen believe the current rate of investment might be several times as high if the threat of trouble from the North could be eliminated. A special mission from private American industry, commissioned by President Johnson and led by George W. Ball, visited South Korea in the spring of 1967 and submitted a very favorable report. It noted the attractions of an investment law that welcomes 100 percent foreign ownership and permits repatriation of capital and profits on a liberal schedule.
In the first half of 1968, Ford decided to assemble cars and trucks in Korea, Caterpillar and International Harvester decided on long-term credit extensions, and Baldwin pianos was going into production. National Distilleries outlined a program to produce synthetic alcohol from petrochemicals and Union Oil of California contracted for a joint project to build a big thermal power plant near Seoul. Plans progressed for a large integrated iron and steel mill and for a large petrochemical complex with participation by seven important U.S. companies. A country that five years ago had to import all refined petroleum products now has a second major refinery in operation, with construction of a third and fourth under way. Total foreign capital projects approved by the government from 1962 to 1968 had reached 113 by late December with $91.5 million involved. U.S. investors head the list, with Japanese second.
Exports, which amounted to only $32 million in 1960, rose at an average of 42 percent annually during the First Five Year Plan. Last year's goal of $500 million was slightly exceeded. The target for this year is $700 million and that for 1970 is $1 billion. Exports of plywood and textiles to the United States head the list. Industrial production has soared, tax collections rose about 50 percent last year, and unemployment and under- employment have been substantially reduced from the dangerously high levels of a few years ago. Wholesale prices showed an increase of 7.1 percent in 1968, slightly exceeding the 6 percent that the government had set as a desirable limit. The policy of liberalized imports was reversed somewhat, checks being put on such luxury items as air-conditioners, television sets and refrigerators, in a move to slow consumption and improve foreign payment balances. The Economic Planning Minister, Park Choong Hoon, has noted that the nation's imports were approaching $1 billion annually, making it about 20th among the world's markets.
Taking account of the lag in agricultural development, the government reached a fundamental decision in October to raise the official price paid to farmers for rice deliveries by 17 percent, thus encouraging greater production, raising farm incomes and shifting consumption to other grains. Diversification of farming, livestock breeding, off-season farm projects and agrobusiness ventures are being promoted and the government has recently invested in seed research to improve plant strains.
The Second Five Year Plan, which began in 1967, has already been revised upward, since most of its goals appeared attainable at least a year ahead of schedule; and the foreign-investment goal was almost attained last year. Marked improvement in living standards is projected. South Korea is expected to be self-sufficient in food-grain production and free of reliance on grant aid from the United States by 1971. The revised estimates indicate that the growth rate will average 10 percent annually and international trade will reach three times the 1965 rate. Education will be broadened and improved and science and technology, hitherto neglected, will get more help. Perhaps most important, the growth of population, which pushed the crowded land past the 30-million mark this year, is beginning to be stemmed by a government-supported family-planning program. The rate of increase has been cut in five years from 3 percent to 2.4 percent; plans call for a decline to 2 percent by 1971 and hope is voiced for reaching 1 percent by 1986.
Many economic hazards remain. Chief among them is inflation as government budgets rise almost 50 percent a year and the amount of money in circulation soars. American advisers see danger in the tendency of the newly confident Korean officials to attempt too much too fast. Some projects, such as the Seoul-Pusan superhighway, the petrochemical complex or the integrated steel mill may be more a matter of national prestige than sound economic ventures under present conditions. The economic atmosphere is heady in Seoul these days, and Americans hope Korean planners will not be carried away by their enthusiasm. Nevertheless there is rejoicing over the new mood that has replaced the defeatism of years past.
Corruption has been almost a way of life in Korea, as in many underdeveloped countries, and eliminating it is an arduous process. At the grassroots level, underpaid civil servants are vulnerable to temptations of many sorts, and underpaid teachers have been prone to accept favors from parents for advancing individual pupils in the highly competitive educational system. The Park government, like its predecessors, has periodically been rocked by scandal, although the President himself is free of any suspicion. Recently the government, under opposition pressure, has acknowledged gross profiteering by big business monopolies and companies assisted by the government in attracting foreign investment: investigations are in progress. These incidents have not shaken the faith of the governing Democratic-Republican Party in its policy of promoting big business and industry as the fastest means of spurring economic development.
Any estimate of the degree of democratization in South Korea will depend on the standard one sets. For reasons not of their own making, the Koreans were late starters. Democracy was largely discredited in the late 1950s under Dr. Rhee and in the 1960-61 period when an elected government proved incapable of effective rule. Now, eight years after the military coup, the President and the 175 members of the National Assembly, chosen at four-year intervals, are the only elective officials; all other posts, national and local, are filled by appointment. All political organizations are right of center and a prominent politician has remarked that it will be many years before the country can afford the luxury of any organized left-of-center activity. The left-wing movement, by its squabbling and factionalism, has gravely impaired its own prospects and many of its members have joined the parties of the right. In general, politics are more a matter of personality than ideology-and Korean personalities are strong.
In many sectors the harsh hand of repression has been felt: the far- reaching network of intelligence agents is reported to have compiled extensive dossiers on several million people, particularly intellectuals and student leaders. The groups that led the student opposition to the treaty with Japan a few years ago have been effectively broken up, and professors who lost their jobs then (many of them are back in teaching posts) are not expressing their views publicly. The universities are administered by educators who have shown themselves friendly to the Park régime. Opposition politicians who have spoken too boldly about the personal lives of the governing hierarchy or who view communism less than harshly have sometimes been imprisoned-a situation that has not always damaged their popularity.
Nevertheless, foreigners who go to Korea expecting to find a repressive police state are likely to be pleasantly surprised. Politicians are outspoken and election campaigns have been waged with considerable heat. There is little doubt, in fact, that if his opponents had been able to submerge their differences and wage a united campaign, Park Chung Hee would have been defeated in his first Presidential race in 1963. Newspapers tend to be generally critical of the government-critical of almost everything, it sometimes seems-reflecting the tradition of resistance that dates back to the Japanese occupation. National Assembly debates are often stormy and sometimes violent, for oppositionists there, at least, have a public platform where they cannot be muzzled.
Though various ministers have come and gone, the Cabinet headed by Premier Chung II Kwon has preserved an unusual continuity. Mr. Chung, former Chief of Staff during the Korean War and later Ambassador in Washington, has held office for five years. Though the Park government is nominally civilian, seven of the ministers are retired generals and 25 other former generals are members of the National Assembly. Twelve of South Korea's 29 ambassadors abroad are former high military men and three-fourths of the state-run enterprises and companies supported by government investment have retired generals as their presidents.
For some time attention has been focused on the Presidential election of 1971, when President Park reaches the end of the eight years which he is constitutionally permitted to serve. Fears are being voiced that the President may find it advisable to amend the Constitution or suspend it under a declaration of emergency in order to continue his leadership and prevent a disastrous struggle for power. After having initially denied any intention of seeking a constitutional amendment, leaders of the government party have begun this year to talk publicly about such a step as a means of assuring "public stability." Dr. Yu Chin Oh, the brilliant constitutional scholar and former university president who has been leading the opposition New Democratic Party, stresses that independent South Korea has not yet had a normal constitutional transfer of power and declares that a legal succession is the very essence of the democratic process. Following the 1967 general elections, which prompted some well-grounded charges of fraud and rigging, the government party now holds a little less than two-thirds of the Assembly seats, but with the support of 12 independents it has adequate strength to force through an amendment. The consequences might be grave.
There is also speculation about the plans and prospects of Kim Jong Pil, 43 years of age, long President Park's right-hand man, who as a lieutenant- colonel provided the directing force in the 1961 coup, served as the initial head of the South Korean CIA, then organized the Democratic- Republican Party as the vehicle for the changeover to civil rule. He went into political exile twice when his rivals seemed to have the upper hand, and last May, finding his position again being eroded, resigned from the party chairmanship and declared himself finished with politics forever. Few politicians take this declaration seriously. Whether the President might designate him as his successor, and whether this would precipitate a destructive political struggle, are already topics of keen interest in Seoul.
Much of the new confidence so plainly evident reflects South Korea's improved international standing. The normalization treaty with Japan, finally pushed through after 13 years of off-and-on negotiations with the old enemy, went far toward removing a national inferiority complex. It opened the door to $800 million in grant, loan and investment aid from Japan over a 10-year period, eased long-standing mistrust and brought two complementary economies into possibly fruitful relations. The difficult decision to send troops to Viet Nam and their impressive performance there has given South Koreans a feeling that they are now playing an important role in the international containment of communism while repaying a debt to the allied nations that came to their aid in 1950.
South Korea has also ended her long international isolation by seeking a significant role in regional and international affairs. It was largely Korean initiative that brought about the nine-nation conference in Seoul in 1966 which gave birth to the Asian-Pacific Council (ASPAC), and South Korea has continued to play a prominent role in this organization, advocating recently that its members, except for Japan, be linked in a collective security grouping as envisioned by President Nixon. Koreans provided the initial impetus for the 1966 Manila Conference. President Park, Premier Chung and other officials have traveled widely in Asia, seeking to make their country and their policies better known. South Korean missions have been dispatched on long tours through Asia, Africa and South America to promote good will and offset the diplomatic efforts of the Pyongyang régime, backed by the communist bloc, in the continuing contest for support among United Nations members.
Reunification remains the overwhelming national goal, and the Republic of Korea-the only Korean government recognized by the international organization-remains committed to the United Nations formula for reunification: nationwide elections under U.N. supervision. Though the annual debate on the "Korean question" at the United Nations attracted little outside attention, it long remained a vital matter for the South Koreans, an indicator of the degree of international support for their régime against the intensified communist offensive. When the item finally was removed from automatic annual consideration on the Assembly agenda last year, the voting indicated that South Korea retained substantial majority support.
The demarcation line running near the 38th Parallel in Korea is probably the most tightly closed border in the world and there presently seems little prospect of loosening it. After two decades of living with this barrier, the South Koreans have achieved a remarkable degree of political stability and economic growth; they probably have not yet reached the point where they can hold on to one without the other.