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Warm-up for '88 Olympics Brings Prestige, Contacts : S. Korea: An Asian Games Winner

September 20, 1986|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — Although the 10th Asian Games do not begin until today, their success for South Korea already is assured.

The gains from organizing the Asian Games, which are seen here as mainly a warm-up for the 1988 Olympic Games, include new prestige in Asia as well as new contacts with Communist nations that only five years ago would have been unimaginable here.

And in two years, the Olympics promise to give a nation "with 5,000 years of history of always being trampled upon by its neighbors . . . our place on the world map," in the words of former Sports Minister Lee Yong Ho.

"After we stage the Asian Games and the Olympics, a lot more people around the world are going to know where we are and have a more positive feeling about our country," Lee said in an interview this week.

" . . . We are becoming (a significant) nation--economically, culturally and militarily. The Olympics won't alter those facts, but it will change the images many countries hold about us, including the Soviet Union and China," he said.

Boost to Self-Image

For the South Koreans themselves, hosting the two events will repair a "lack of self-confidence as a nation" and a self-image as a weak, impoverished and insignificant nation, Lee said. The result will be a restoration of pride in Korea's rich culture, which centuries of poverty have eroded, he predicted.

In addition to about 160,000 tourists expected to visit the country during the Asian Games, South Korea's new stature is drawing more visits by foreign tourists and helping the nation's businessmen, Lee said.

"Our traders are having an easier time selling Korean products," he said.

Lee said the two sports festivals will stimulate the South Korean people, who have already achieved an "upper middle-class" economic status in the world, to seek "still further national development."

The Asian Games have even precipitated a rare, but probably temporary, interlude of political harmony between President Chun Doo Hwan, who seized power in 1980, and opposition political parties. All political parties here have declared their support for the games and have even pledged to halt condemnations of each other for the 15-day duration.

May Ease Attack Threat

Ultimately, South Korean officials say, the hosting of the two sports festivals, and the contacts with Communist countries arising from them, may mean a lessening of the threat of attack by the Communist North Korean troops poised across a frontier only 25 miles north of the capital.

And that, in turn, could benefit the United States, which, with 40,000 American troops stationed here now, is the principal guarantor of South Korea's security,

Suh Keuk Sung, assistant minister of the government's Unification Board, said Soviet and Chinese participation in the 1988 Olympics could weaken North Korea's ties with its only two military allies, thus lessening the military threat to South Korea.

"At the moment, North Korea has developed the capability of invading South Korea without the support of its military allies, China and the Soviet Union," he said. "But the north cannot sustain a war without their help."

If the Soviet Union and China participate in the Olympics, North Korea will be forced to find ways to at least coexist peacefully with the south, rather than seeking its destruction, he said.

The presence here now of a 520-member delegation of athletes and officials, and 80 reporters, from China, South Korea's enemy in the Korean War of 1950-53, as well as government officials from the Soviet Union and all other East European Communist countries, has already given the Seoul government one of its biggest diplomatic coups ever.

The Soviets' sports minister, Marat V. Gramov, is scheduled to attend the Asian Games opening ceremony today, and the East European officials are here to attend meetings of the International Olympic Committee.

None of the Communist nations--supposedly spiritual allies of North Korea, which urged all Communist countries to follow it in boycotting the sports festival--maintain diplomatic relations with Seoul. And were it not for the Asian Games and the Olympics, they might still have developed no contacts with Seoul.

Now the outlook, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, told a news conference here Thursday, is for "all the socialist countries in Europe to take part in the 1988 Olympic Games."

"Very strong teams from those countries were in South Korea last year and this year taking part in very, very important competitions," he noted.

'Helpful' for Olympics

Samaranch called the participation of China in the Seoul Asian Games "really helpful for the 1988 Olympic Games."

In 1981, when Seoul won its bid to host the 1988 Olympiad, no contacts at all had been established with any Communist country except for North Korea itself.

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