2000 – Kim Dae Jung, architect of the Korean Sunshine Policy

Kim Dae Jung was elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in 1961. One month later, Gen. Park Chung-hee seized control of the government through a military coup, launching Kim’s career as a fiery and popular opposition figure. In 1971, in his first presidential race, Kim won 46 percent of the vote running against Park.

One month later he survived an assassination attempt. During the next few years he was kidnapped, sentenced to death (and spared by diplomatic pressure) and lived under house arrest.

After the fall of the military government in 1997, Kim was elected president. He vigorously pursued international support for his “Sunshine Policy”, to establish relations with the Stalinist North. His policy of détente culminated in June of 2000, when he traveled to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-il for a three day summit. He was the first South Korean leader to do so since the Korean War ended.

Despite corruption scandals around him during his tenure, Kim has not been directly implicated, and a public poll taken in 2004 found him still the most popular political figure in South Korean, with continued wide support for his Sunshine Policy.

photo by Peter Badge