SEOUL, South Korea — President Chun Doo Hwan, who for much of his life was an army officer, seized power in a military takeover and would seem to have no compunction about using force. But in the present troubles he has yet to call out the army. What accounts for his patience so far?
Political analysts here, Korean and non-Korean, cite a number of factors. Among them:
--The overwhelming desire of the South Korean people, and Chun himself, to see that the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul are carried out peacefully and on schedule.
--Chun's need to placate a growing body of moderates among his supporters, including those in the military.
--A stronger national economy that has enabled South Korea, though still in debt, to worry less about the effect public unrest might have on its image abroad, particularly among international bankers.
--The increasing sophistication of the South Korean people, which has made the average citizen less willing to be dictated to, as a long-term American resident put it, "by a bunch of men with guns."
--Growing concern within the military about public hostility, particularly in light of the suppression of the Kwangju uprising in 1980 at the cost of at least 194 lives.
Few Political Concessions
But despite all this, Chun has yet to make any political concessions of substance, and he has yet to commit himself to resolving the situation peacefully. The latest test of Chun's patience occurred Friday when tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of 32 cities, and Chun made no move to call out the troops.
At a meeting Wednesday with Kim Young Sam, president of the main opposition Reunification Democratic Party, Chun merely agreed to resume talks with the opposition on revising the constitution. All this did, in effect, was restore the deadlock that existed in April, when Chun ordered the talks suspended until after the Olympic Games.
Other promises Chun has made, for unspecified "broad democratic reform," are still unfulfilled.
Kim said he warned Chun at their meeting that imposing martial law would mean "your end." But Chun, according to a government statement, reiterated his determination to use whatever means are necessary to restore order.
Vows to Keep Order
"It is best, if at all possible, not to use emergency measures," Chun was quoted as saying. "But I must exercise all the powers and responsibilities vested in me as president if national discipline becomes lax and social unrest is fomented."
The United States has made it clear that it cannot countenance the use of military force or the imposition of martial law. If Chun has made any reply, it has not been made public. U.S. officials also have said that they see no likelihood of troops being used or of martial law being decreed, but they have taken care to add the words at this time .
In the view of foreign diplomats, South Korea has managed to get past three crisis points--moments when martial law could conceivably have been proclaimed--since the current unrest erupted June 10 when the ruling Democratic Justice Party nominated Roh Tae Woo, a longtime Chun associate, to succeed Chun as president when he steps down next February.
The first came that weekend, as student-led protest demonstrations spread, and the second came the following Friday, June 19, a day after tens of thousands of protesters poured into the downtown streets of this capital. The third was Friday's widespread protest.
On the night of June 19, Prime Minister Lee Han Key issued a stern warning that if the disturbances were not stopped, "extraordinary measures" would be taken. Many had expected an announcement of emergency measures, not just a warning.
Army Use Still Possible
And in spite of Friday's demonstrations having come and gone with no "emergency measures" undertaken, there is still concern here that Chun might ultimately turn to the army to ensure that his plan for the succession goes ahead unhindered.
On Wednesday, as Chun was meeting with Kim, the defense minister, Lee Ki Baek, was calling army, navy and air force commanders together for what Korean reporters were told was a review of "unusual" military activity in Communist North Korea. Skeptical reporters asked if this was not really a smoke screen for a discussion of the unrest in South Korea.
Brig. Gen. Lee Heung Sik, the defense ministry's spokesman, said that as far as he knew the meeting of military commanders had been scheduled long ago.
The Olympic Games are becoming an increasingly important factor in South Korean politics. They appear to be holding Chun back and spurring on his critics.
According to South Korean sources and foreign diplomats, Chun has said privately that he is willing to sacrifice the games to maintain his style of domestic stability. Yet virtually all South Koreans, Chun included, are united in nationalistic anticipation of basking in the limelight that the games will provide for a country once known as the Hermit Kingdom.