R R KRISHNAN*
Early History. ofUS Imperialism in Korea
IN MAY 1982, amidst much fanfare and publicity, the United States and South Korea celebrated the centennial of the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation between the Kingdom of Choson (Korea) and USA. The Treaty, among other things, provided for the opening of diplomatic relations and the establishment of permanent missions in the capitals of the two countries.1 During the centennial celebrations, Ronald Reagan and Chon Doo Hwan spoke glowingly of the first century of U S-Korean official relations, and hoped that the second century would witness even more .glorious relations. In a proclamation on the occasion, Reagan said:
This treaty marked a new chapter in the history of Northeast Asia and was the auspicious beginning of an enduring partnership between the United States and Korea....Americans are proud of the role they have played in Korean history, especially during these last 100 years. In 194-5, American soldiers were crucial to the restoration of this ancient land's independence....2
Reagan was indulging in something more than rhetoric. He was distorting the history of US-Korean relations and the American role in Korean history. The nature of the distortion and its implications are discussed in this essay.
To be sure, U S-Korean relations did not begin with the Treaty of 1882. It would also be wrong to characterise the Treaty as marking "a new chapter in the history of Northeast Asia9' in any positive sense. The Treaty was preceded by more than a decade and a half of stormy relations marked by the efforts of the Koreans to resist the intimidatory and aggressive activities of the U S armed vessels and naval expeditionary forces to force "open" the "Hermit Kingdom".3 The Treaty should, therefore, be seen more as a product of the gunboat diplomacy that the USA employed just like any other imperialist power of the nineteenth century. Indeed, as an author so aptly observed. Commodore R W Shue-feldt's act of "opening" Korea in 1882 was "one of most vivid examples
*Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.