| A Country Study: South Korea
Establishment of the Republic of Korea
In this atmosphere, the United States scuttled an earlier plan to provide US$500 million over five years for South Korean development. It then submitted the Korean problem to the United Nations (UN) in September 1947. In November the UN General Assembly recognized Korea's claim to independence and made preparations for the establishment of a government and the withdrawal of occupation forces. The United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea arrived to supervise the election of a national assembly, which was held in May 1948. The Soviet Union, however, objected to the UN resolution and refused to admit the commission to the Soviet-controlled zone in the north. It was becoming increasingly clear that two separate regimes would be established on the peninsula.
The prospect of perpetuating the division of Korea catapulted some of the southern political leaders to action, significantly altering the political configuration there. The choice they faced was between immediate independence at the price of indefinite division, or postponement of independence until the deadlock between the United States and the Soviet Union was resolved. Rhee had campaigned actively within Korea and the United States for the first alternative since June 1946. Other major figures in the right-wing camp, including Kim Ku and Kim Kyu-sik, decided to oppose the "separate elections" in the south, hoping to resolve the international impasse by holding talks with their northern counterparts. The group led by the two Kims made their way to P'yongyang, the future capital of North Korea, in April 1948, boycotted the May 1948 elections, and were discredited when P'yongyang cut off electricity, leaving Rhee a clear field though he lacked grass roots support apart from the Korean Democratic Party. By this time, the communists in the south had lost much of their political following, particularly after a serious riot in October 1946; most of their leaders congregated in the north. The moderate left-wing camp was in disarray after their leader, Yo Un-hyong, was assassinated in July 1947. Kim Kyu-sik had been the clear choice of the United States military government, but he could not be dissuaded from his fruitless trip to P'yongyang.
The National Assembly elected in May 1948 adopted a constitution setting forth a presidential form of government and specifying a four-year term for the presidency. Syngman Rhee, whose supporters had won the elections, became head of the new assembly. On this basis, when on August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was proclaimed, Rhee assumed the presidency. Four days after the proclamation, communist authorities completed the severing of north-south ties by shutting off power transmission to the south. Within less than a month, a communist regime, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), was proclaimed under Premier Kim Il Sung, who claimed authority over the entire country by virtue of elections conducted in the north and the underground elections allegedly held in the south. Rhee scarcely had time to put his political house in order before North Korea launched its attack on South Korea in June 1950.
The South Korean army had come into being in September 1948 (see The South Korean Army after World War II , ch. 5). A communist-led revolt of army regiments in the southern part of the peninsula in October of the same year, known as the YosuSunch 'on rebellion, had consumed much of the army's attention and resources, however, and a massive purge in the aftermath of that revolt weakened the entire military establishment. Given South Korea's precarious future and the communist victory in China, the United States was not eager to provide support. By June 29, 1949, United States occupation forces had been withdrawn, save for a handful of military advisers, and Korea had been placed outside of the United States defense perimeter.
Data as of June 1990
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