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South Koreans Feel Sweeping Wind of Change

<i> Sang Dal Cha was until recently the president of the Southern California Committee for Democracy and Unification in Korea</i>

Korea has endured years of suffering and shame at the hands of foreigners and some of its own rulers, but now it is awakening from a long sleep. The sacred wind that is sweeping the world has come to South Korea, and the Korean people are slowly finding strength, courage and wisdom to start a bold new period of history.

South Koreans felt the wind rise in February, 1985, when 65% of the people voted for opposition parties and only 35% for the Democratic Justice Party (a misnomer) led by President Chun Doo Hwan. Strength and self-confidence grew after this vote, and the people became more united by a common vision.

Since that election, many members of the National Assembly have been able to speak out, to say what they were afraid to say before. They know that they have the support of the people.

The wind that is energizing South Korea is the same that swept Ferdinand E. Marcos from power earlier this year. We were encouraged by the fall of another cruel dictator, but we were inspired by the way in which the Philippine people gained their freedom through people power rather than violence.

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The changing spirit is manifested in the current campaign to collect 10 million signatures of South Koreans to petition for the direct election of the president. Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in many cities to show their support for this campaign. In Los Angeles, even the groups that used to be regarded as supporting the government, such as the Korean Federation, are now supporting the petition campaign as well.

It is now obvious that most of the population of South Korea is yearning for a democratic government. The military dictator has been deserted by the people. He can stay in power only by using repression and imprisonment. He desperately desires the help and support of the Reagan Administration.

During a recent visit to Seoul, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger stunned many Koreans. At this critical hour, when all of South Korea was challenging the Chun government, these U.S. representatives encouraged the dictator and offered their support.

But the holy wind has affected even the Reagan Administration. The President has finally given a small concession, acknowledging that all peoples have a right to petition their government. This small clarification in U.S. policy created a major challenge to Chun’s strong-arm tactics. It forced a softening in tactics and reduced the oppression somewhat.

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We now feel the sacred wind in the actions of students. They are bold and fearless as they call for freedom. Many have been arrested and tortured. We have heard that there is a student suicide group, whose members will burn themselves to death in protest of the irrational and cruel actions of the Chun government. Already some students have immolated themselves and died in this severe form of protest. Although we sincerely hope that the news of this group is not true, we are stunned by the determination of these young people.

South Korea is at a critical point. The National Assembly has begun discussions that could lead to a new constitution. It is very difficult to foresee how far this will go, whether it will be allowed to proceed to a peaceful change in government and the establishment of basic human rights.

It is time for Chun to recognize that he cannot stop the wind. He can continue on a collision course with the Korean people, and possibly suffer the fate of his predecessor. Or he could be inspired by the hopes of his people and facilitate a peaceful transition to true democracy. If he does, he will earn a place in Korean history as a man who ushered in a new era.

As an American and a Korean, I fervently hope that President Reagan will also become a part of this holy wind, and start helping the people, not the power-hungry dictator, of Korea.

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