People’s Daily Journalist Remembers Kim Dae-jung
By Sunny Lee
Korea Times Correspondent
BEIJING ― The life of former President Kim Dae-jung touched not just Koreans, but also many foreigners who crossed paths or developed special friendships with him at some point in their lives. Xu Baokang, a senior reporter with The People's Daily in China, was one.
In a piece titled "Unforgettable Old Friend Kim Dae-jung," Xu remembers the former South Korean President, who he met as the Chinese newspaper's Seoul correspondent. "Kim dedicated his life to South Korea's democracy and reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula," he said in a two-page special obituary piece, published in the September edition of The Global People, a sister monthly magazine of The People's Daily.
"Kim was also an old friend of Chinese people. He exerted a great effort to promote the China-South Korea friendship," he said.
After returning to China, Xu again met the late former President in May this year during Kim's visit to Beijing. "I never imagined this would be my last time to see him," he wrote. It was his fifth and last interview with the deceased.
"When I entered the room at the Diaoyutai State Guest House (where Kim was staying during his visit to China) in the morning, he was already there waiting for us. He looked a bit tired, but stood up when we entered and shook hands with each one of us," he remembered.
Xu still vividly recollects his observation of Kim. "He wore a gray suit with a red tie. His move was a bit slow, but was in good spirit. When he spoke, his low-tone voice had enough force."
Xu remembers that when the topic was North Korea's nuclear issue, "Kim's train of thought became very clear. He said the survival of North Korea is an important issue, but also said that the nuclear issue must be resolved."
In his meeting with Chinese guests there, Kim stressed that "North Korea must give up its nuclear programs, establish diplomatic relations with the United States, and then, we should rebuild peace in the Korean Peninsula."
As the interview was about to end, Xu remembers, Kim stood up with a smile and suggested that they take a picture together to remember the meeting.
In an affectionate voice, he said, "I invited all of you all because you are the Chinese experts on the Korean Peninsula. I hope you continue to make a concerted effort to safeguard the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula," Xu recalls.
Prior to his assignment in Seoul, Xu had worked in Pyongyang from 1975 to 1990 as a correspondent with The People's Daily.
It was then that he learned about Kim Dae-jung "as a person who opposed dictatorship and advocated democracy. I developed a deep respect for him."
In 1997, after Xu's interview with Kim in Seoul ended, Kim gave the reporter a porcelain tray as a gift. In it, four Chinese characters were written, which said, "Respect the Heaven and love people."
It was part of Kim's speech when he later earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his reconciliation effort for the two Koreas. It was also Kim's lifetime motto.
Xu also remembers what Kim told him at that time: "I always strive to steadfastly listen to my conscience, whether I am put in jail or whether I am put on death row. I always strive to act in accordance with my conscience."
Xu still keeps a season's greetings card personally signed by Kim. It was a wish for world peace at the dawn of the new millennium. "The words still ring in my ears. But the gentle and warm statesman has departed us now," he wrote.