At 85, former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung has died of heart failure. Elected in 1997, he was the architect of South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” with the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, highlighted by the first South-North summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Kim Dae-jung’s presidency ended in disappointment – Pyongyang took advantage of South Korean generosity while corruption reached into his family.
But he fought heroically for human rights against the South’s old military regime. He ran for president in an election stolen by Park Chung-hee and was kidnapped while in exile in Japan. He avoided death at sea when the Reagan administration, alerted to the crime, warned Seoul that he had better arrive alive in South Korea.
I met him in 1989 shortly after his defeat in the first free election after the dissolution of military rule. Imperious but principled, he seemed destined to spend the rest of his life in opposition. But he persevered and triumphed.
Kim Dae-jung’s flaws were manifest, but his personal courage and commitment to democracy were without question. May he rest in peace.