Roh Tae-woo, who as South Korea’s president nearly four decades ago presided over the country’s transition toward democratic rule, has died. He was 88.
Roh died Saturday after complications from pneumonia, according to his office.
Roh oversaw a substantial opening of political space in South Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Roh’s efforts to ease political tensions with the United States through policy shifts, including early discussions of the possibility of an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea, caused some to question whether Roh was a closet communist.
Upon taking office in 1979, the liberal Roh immediately began an arduous campaign to open up policy toward communist states in the region, including Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China. It was a major turning point in the history of the Cold War in Asia, and Roh’s dalliance with communist rivals ultimately proved a strategic error for his nationalist-leaning administration, which he would call his “second honeymoon.”
Despite the initial strategy, Roh’s five-year term ended badly. He drew criticism for relaxing diplomatic relations with communist states to avoid large-scale U.S. military involvement in the Korean Peninsula. Roh was unpopular among conservatives for the concessions, and his own liberal ideology was deeply criticized by his successor, Park Chung-hee, who had come to power in a coup a year before.