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S. Korea Hears of Diplomatic Triumph Amid Rueful News


SEOUL — On Tuesday, South Koreans learned that a Chinese head of state will visit their country for the first time. Today, also for the first time, they saw a former head of state of their own report to the prosecutor's office after admitting to amassing a presidential slush fund while in office.

Announcement of the Nov. 13-17 visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin represented a diplomatic triumph for South Korea in establishing closer ties with Communist North Korea's closest ally even though Seoul's own relations with Pyongyang remain hostile.

The sight on nationwide television of former President Roh Tae Woo going into the Seoul prosecutor's office, however, brought major embarrassment and underscored a growing crisis in South Korean politics.

No incumbent or former chief executive has ever faced criminal proceedings--and technically upholding that tradition, prosecutors summoned Roh not as a suspect but for "reference." Nonetheless, he was to be grilled on how he collected an illicit fund of $653 million, $242 million of which he has said he still possesses.

Roh arrived 15 minutes before he had been told to appear and was met by prosecutors as he got out of his car outside the entrance to the Supreme Prosecutor's Office, a 14-story building in southern Seoul.

The upcoming visit to South Korea by Jiang, who heads China's government, military and Communist Party, will be for five days en route to a summit of leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Osaka, Japan. South Korean President Kim Young Sam--as well as President Clinton--will also attend the APEC summit.

An announcement said that Jiang and Kim will meet Nov. 14 to discuss "the issue of the Korean peninsula" and bilateral economic relations.

Two alleged infiltrations of the South by North Korean spies in the last two weeks and 15 months of virtually no contacts since the death of North Korean President Kim Il Sung have raised tensions between North and South, even as unofficial exchanges between North Korea and the United States--a South Korean ally--have moved forward.

Jiang's visit, which will include meetings with business leaders and factory tours, "demonstrated the Chinese leadership's strong interest in South Korea," said Yoo Chong Ha, Kim's foreign policy adviser.

On Tuesday, Kim again denied involvement in Roh's slush fund and claimed that he personally did not receive any funds from Roh when he was campaigning as the ruling party candidate for president in 1992.

"I think [Roh] gave them to the Democratic Liberal Party directly," Kim told a breakfast meeting of party leaders.

Asked whether South Koreans would believe that claim, Kim Chong Chol, an editorial writer for the newspaper Hankyoreh Shinmun, said, "Not a chance."

Chi Jung Nam of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.

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