SEOUL, South Korea — Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said Thursday that American commitment to the defense of South Korea and its government is "complete and absolute."
He also said there are no similarities at all between South Korea, which he called a solidly united country making rapid economic progress, and the Philippines, where an autocratic leader, Ferdinand E. Marcos, was recently deposed with U.S. blessings.
Weinberger's three-day visit to South Korea, however, came within days of a clash in Kwangju between riot police and demonstrators shouting "Down with Dictatorship! Down with America!"
The clash followed a rally by 60,000 people, the largest anti-government gathering in South Korea since President Chun Doo Hwan, a former army general, took power in 1980.
Asked at a pre-departure news conference if he believes that the United States, which keeps 40,000 troops in South Korea, is helping to defend a fully democratic nation, Weinberger said: "I am satisfied that what we are doing is essential for the preservation of the government in the Republic of (South) Korea and for freedom and peace in the whole peninsula. The American commitment to doing that is complete and absolute."
During his three days here, Weinberger attended the 18th annual U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative Meeting, talked to U.S. troops stationed near the demilitarized zone separating South Korea from Communist North Korea, and visited Seoul's new stadium, part of the facilities for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
Leaders of South Korea's recently emboldened opposition, who are demanding changes in the constitution to allow direct presidential elections, say they look to the Philippines as an example.
South Korean officials, however, have called for a moratorium on constitutional debate until after the 1988 Olympics. They say South Korea is in grave danger from the Communist north, which they insist intends to sabotage the Olympics and the 1986 Asian Games, scheduled to be held here this fall.
The government brands all attempts to compare events in the Philippines with conditions here as irresponsible.
Weinberger's statements during his visit gave full support to the position of his hosts.
"In the next three years, our commitment and joint work is perhaps more necessary than at any time in the immediate past," he declared, saying that defense cooperation will "enable us to keep the peace" and allow South Korea to host "these two international games . . . without any disruption that North Korea or the Soviets may try to make. . . ."
Weinberger also agreed with the government about not comparing this country with the Philippines. "I don't think you have any conditions of similarity at all, so that we don't find any of the Philippine experience that would be instructive for the situation and conditions here," he said.
Citing examples of differences between the two countries, Weinberger spoke of the unity of the South Korean people in the face of a "(North Korean) threat that is pervasive and growing and supported by the Soviet Union." He also cited the South Korean economic expansion "in which 5% growth is regarded as not at all satisfactory" and a "president who said he will fill out his constitutional term and then join in an orderly transition to the next government."
While not denying the threat from the north, Chun's opponents say that the government is "crying wolf" and using the threat to delay measures leading to democracy. They also maintain that under the present indirect system of presidential elections, Chun is free to handpick his successor and that he will still wield power after stepping down.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Ki Baek thanked Weinberger for his promise that the United States will help South Korea stage the forthcoming sports events "with success and security" and said the meeting here will "send a stern message and signal a warning" to North Korea.
Lee told reporters that measures discussed by the United States and South Korea against possible North Korean aggression during the two sets of games could include "high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, (an) increase in our submarine warfare capabilities, frequent presence of the U.S. Navy off the Korean coast, (and the deployment of) Redeye and Stinger missiles."
He added that the acquisition of F-16 fighter planes by South Korea's air force and the introduction soon of a locally produced tank will also help beef up combined U.S.-South Korean strength on the peninsula.
Lee told reporters that he asked Weinberger for continued concessionary financing for South Korea under the Foreign Military Sales program. State and Defense department officials have asked Congress to approve an increase in such credits for this country from $162.7 million in 1986 to $230 million for 1987.
In a 13-point joint communique, the United States and South Korea announced agreement to continue the so-called Team Spirit military exercises, 10 weeks of maneuvers calling for thousands of troops to be airlifted from Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. North Korea, calling the exercises aggressive, has interrupted north-south talks that began 18 months ago.
Weinberger's visit to Korea coincided with Team Spirit, in which about 200,000 troops from the United States and South Korea are taking part.