TOKYO — Roh Tae Woo, the South Korean ruling party's candidate for president, said here Saturday that Seoul must build up its military power to match that of Communist North Korea and urged that the United States handle trade disputes with his nation on a strategic, not commercial, basis.
The 55-year-old former general, in a luncheon appearance at the Japan National Press Club before returning to Seoul, called any proposal for Korean disarmament "impossible" until the south achieves "a military balance" with the north. The two countries have a combined total of 1.4 million people in their armed forces facing each other across a demilitarized zone.
Roh made the statement in reply to a question about proposals for arms reduction on the Korean Peninsula made by William Gleysteen, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, in a Foreign Affairs magazine article.
Without explaining how he made the calculation, Roh said that South Korea's 625,000-man armed forces now have only 62% of the strength of the north's 800,000-man military.
"A balance does not exist in the military power of the south and north. Therefore, a balance in the military strength must be achieved. Then, on the basis of a military balance, tensions can be eased and agreements like a nonaggression pact between the south and north can be reached. Until then, the problem of disarmament should not be taken up. Disarmament or reduction of armaments, as proposed by former Ambassador Gleysteen, is impossible in realistic terms now," he said.
A recent North Korean proposal for arms reduction, he charged, sought not disarmament but rather the removal of about 40,000 American troops stationed in South Korea.
American officials also believe that the south is not as strong militarily as the north, but insist that U.S. ground and air forces complement South Korea's strength to provide a military balance on the peninsula.
Despite Roh's rejection of any disarmament talks until South Korea builds up its military power to match that of the north, the Democratic Justice Party president said he has other "positive plans" to ease tensions with North Korea, but said, "It would be premature to disclose them now."
He also disclosed that he had told President Reagan last Monday in Washington that trade disputes with South Korea "must not be calculated simply on the basis of commercial considerations."
"I told him they must be handled while considering stability in Northeast Asia from a strategic viewpoint," he said.
He also said he asked Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to urge Reagan to consider South Korea's security when U.S. officials demand that South Korean markets be opened to American goods and services. The Japanese leader will meet Reagan in New York on Monday.
Roh warned both the United States and Japan that "the rise of nationalistic self-pride" among South Koreans threatens to exacerbate Seoul's relations with Japan and the United States unless both countries pay attention to the strategic importance of South Korea in seeking solutions to bilateral problems.
Roh said that the only problem left for the democratization of South Korea after years of authoritarian rule is "democratic competition among the candidates for president" in an election to be held in December.
A former army commander who supported President Chun Doo Hwan's military takeover in 1980, Roh condemned "military intervention in politics" as a manifestation of "the backwardness of Korean politics." He said the armed forces will not intervene again despite what he described as "manifestations of destruction of social order and blows to economic development" caused by South Korean labor strife in the last three months.