National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

Educational Materials

home > Education and Cultural Events > Educational Materials

Establishment of the Government of the Republic of Korea

2. Establishment of ROK

Educational Materials of Modern Korean History #2
(National Museum of Korean Contemporary History)

The Establishment of the Government of the Republic of Korea

1. The Beginning of the Politics of Establishing New Nation-state

That long-awaited day had finally come. It was the end of a 36-year period of hardship and pain that had resulted from the loss of a nation. All were full of hope for the prospects of a nation-state to be built upon their own land, and Korea’s leaders who would bud the hope came on the stage.

August 15, 1945

The first person to come on the stage was Lyuh Woon-hyung, a politician who had campaigned for Korea’s independence staying in Korea.

Lyuh Woon-hyung

The Japanese governor-general of Korea requested in the morning of August 15th, just the day the Japanese King announced Japan’s surrender in World War Two, that Lyuh ensure the safe passage of Japanese residents out of Korea and keep public order in the country. Lyuh accepted it, demanding the release of political prisoners.

August 15, 1945
The King of Japan announces the Japanese surrender

The next day, Lyuh established the Committee for the Establishment of the Korean State (CEKS). The CEKS tasked itself with maintaining law and order across country, and prepared for the formation of a new Korean nation-state.

The committee’s central committee in Seoul was made up of leftist and centrist figures.

Event Reenactment

August 16, 1945
Committee for the Establishment of the Korean State (CEKS) founded

From late August to early September, communist activists took the initiative of the committee. The key man was Park Heon-young.
Park was a communist who had never renounced his beliefs even to the end of the Japanese rule. And immediately following the liberation he rebuilt the Korean Communist Party.

Park Heon-young

As Communists took control of the CEKS, some of centrist members left the committee.

Event Reenactment

The Communists declared the Korean People’s Republic on September 6, right before the US troops landed on the Korean Peninsula.

September 6, 1945
Korean People’s Republic declared

It was part of the party’s goal to establish itself as the representative political party of South Korea in the eyes of the Americans.

On September 8, 1945, American soldiers landed in Incheon Harbor. The following day, upon reaching Seoul, they took the surrender of Japanese troops in Korea, as well as the Japanese Government-General of Korea. The United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) declared itself to be the sole legitimate government of the southern half of the Korean peninsula. And it inherited Japanese colonial government organizations and its administrative personnel.

September 8, 1945
US soldiers land in Incheon

John Reed Hodge / Military Governor of the US Army government
A typical field commander who participated in both World War I and World War II

US Army government declared
Responsible for military and political affairs for 3 years after the liberation

On September 16, rightists who rejected the Communists’ declaration of the Korean People’s Republic founded the Korea Democratic Party, with Song Jin-woo as the head. Members of the party took on the role of the ruling party that worked in cooperation with the US Army government.

People’s Republic of Korea established
Korea Democratic Party
Kim Seongsu / Kim Byeongro / Song Jinu / Won Sehun / Jang Deoksu

Independence activists who were active abroad began to return.

In mid-October, Syngman Rhee returned from the United States.

October 16, 1945
Syngman Rhee return to Korea

The US State Department wasn’t pleased with his return, as it feared his anti-Soviet and anti-Communist stance would complicate US-Soviet cooperation. However, Rhee returned to Seoul with the help of another anti-Communist US Commander Douglas MacArthur.

October 20, 1945
Welcoming ceremony for US soldiers by Seoul citizens

Douglas MacArthur / Supreme Commander of South West Pacific Theater of World War II

Members of the Provisional Government based in China, including Kim Koo, followed suit and returned.

November 23, 1945
Key figures of the Provisional Government return to Korea

With this, it seemed that all Korea’s major political leaders had appeared on the domestic political stage.

2. The Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers and the Five-year Trusteeship of Korea

In end of December 1945, a shock with much significance for the future of Korea reverberated throughout the Peninsula, the epicenter was Moscow.

From December 16 to 26, 1945, the foreign ministers of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union met in Moscow to discuss the postwar readjustment problems, including the Korean issue.

Event Reenactment

December 16~26, 1945
Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers

The three foreign ministers agreed to establish an interim government in Korea, and for that to make the US-USSR Joint Commission and to discuss about some years trusteeship in the Commission.

The United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China had previously agreed on the trusteeship in the Cairo and Tehran Conferences. Nonetheless, the news still had a massive impact on the domestic politics.

(Decisions agreed upon by the Moscow Conference of foreign ministers)
1. A provisional democratic government will be established to rebuild an independent state
2. A Joint Commission consisting of representatives from the United States forces and the Soviet Union forces in Korea will be established to work towards that goal
3. The Joint Commission will work with the Korean provisional government to agree about a four-power trusteeship of Korea for up to 5 years.
4. The representatives of the US forces and USSR forces in Korea will meet within two weeks to discuss issues affecting both halves of Korea

3. “No Trusteeship!”

The press immediately conveyed the results of the conference.

The Dong-a ilbo newspaper published on its front page of the December 27, 1945 issue an article titled “The Question of Korean Independence Discussed At Foreign Ministers Meeting,” reporting that the Soviet Union called for a trusteeship while the United States was pushing for immediate independence.

The Soviet Union pushes for trusteeship
The United States pushes for immediate independence Dong-a Ilbo – December 27, 1945

The idea of a trusteeship in Korea had originally been that of the US, thus Dong-a’s reporting was wrong. But this report, wrong or not, aided the spread of anti-Soviet sentiment as well as anti-trusteeship movement.


The decision to establish a trusteeship was a big shock to the Koreans.

Park Seong-su, Professor Emeritus (born in 1931)
The Academy of Korean Studies Of course, people thought liberation from Japanese colonialism meant independence. Then, when they were suddenly told that they had to accept a four powers’ trusteeship before getting independence, they took this as becoming a colony once again. So, they opposed it.

Only a few months ago, the people were joyful for independence, but the word “trusteeship” brought back painful memories of colonization, resulting in nation-wide opposition.

Give us Independence or Death

The situation became urgent. The next day at 8 pm, the provisional government led by Kim Koo convened a counter-measure meeting of the delegations of various circles to block trusteeship.
The following day, on the 29th, the National Anti-Trusteeship Movement Mobilization Committee was established, launched strong anti-trusteeship movement.

December 29, 1945
National Anti-Trusteeship Movement Mobilization Committee formed

Politicians from the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea issued a proclamation calling for anti-trusteeship protests, and even ordered Korean officials and police officers in the US Army government to obey the orders of the provisional government, instead of those of the US Army. For the US Army government this meant a instigation of a coup d’etat against it.

Proclamation #1 of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
1. All Korean officials and police officers shall henceforth be under the control of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
2. Anti-trusteeship protest movements should be in an orderly manner
3. Violent and destructive activities are absolutely forbidden
The 27th year of the Republic of Korea
Home Minister Shin Ik-hee

4. Support Moscow - Why did the Leftists suddenly Change their Position?

People loudly expressed opposition to trusteeship irrespective of their political stance. Song Jinu, the leader of Korea Democratic party was even assassinated for a reason that he showed an ambiguous attitude to the trusteeship issue.

Precious Blood on the Independence Front
Mr. Song Jinu passes away after being hit by assassin

But on January 3, protestors who gathered in Seoul Stadium for anti-trusteeship demonstration got into great confusion. It was a rally to support the Moscow Agreement, which meant the pro-trusteeship.

The Communists led by Park Heon-young did abruptly an about-face.

January 3, 1946
Rally for Korean independence and unification

Absolute support for the Moscow agreement

Park Seong-su, Professor Emeritus (born in 1931)
The Academy of Korean Studies At that time, the Communists excused that after 5 years’ patience Koreans could get independence. Such a position is very difficult to understand.

Why did the Communists suddenly change their stance?

5. The Soviet-supported Communization of North Korea

On the night of December 28, 1945, the day after the results of Moscow conference were announced, Park Heon-young crossed the 38th parallel to north Korea.

December 28, 1945
Park Heon-young goes North

His objective was to get instructions from the Soviet Union regarding the agreements of the conference

Stalin ordered Kim Il-sung and Park Heon-young to support the decisions of the Moscow meeting.

Joseph Stalin / Leader of the Soviet Union

Andrei Lankov, Professor of Korean Studies
Kookmin University
Can Catholics oppose the decisions of the Pope? The international communist movement of the time was very much like the Catholic church in this regard. In fact, Stalin was not so much like the Pope as like God himself. Their only choice was to obey the commands of Moscow, or to leave the party or be expelled.

Stalin, who had already begun the communization of North Korea, intended to plant Communists in key positions of the unified provisional government sponsored by the US-USSR Joint Commission. This was the same strategy that the Soviets had employed in Eastern Europe.

Lee Ji-su, Professor of North Korean Studies
Myongji University
What happened in Eastern Europe was that Communists would participate in a coalition government. They would not take up positions like the presidency or the prime ministership. The key positions that were eyed were the interior ministry and the defense ministry. In other words, they sought to take hold the military force. Then, a few months later, the leaders of the coalition government would be assassinated or hit by terrorist attacks, and the leaders of the former Communist Party, which became the Workers’ Party, would come into power completely.

While the leftists, lacking popular support, were forced on the defensive, the rightists gained political strength in the anti-trusteeship movement.

While there was a split of factions based on supporting or opposing the trusteeship south of the 38th parallel, in Pyongyang, Communization was taking place in perfect order, according to Soviet plans.
In early January of 1946, anti-trusteeship rightist activist Cho Man-sik was put under arrest.

(North Korea’s Socialist drive)
January 1946
Rightist activist Cho Man-sik put under arrest

In February 8, 1946, the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of North Korea established the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea and appointed Kim Il-sung as chairman. It was, for all intents and purposes, a separate government in charge of enacting and implementing laws.

North Korean Provisional People’s Committee established
February 8, 1946

Kim Il-sung appointed as chairman

In March 1946, the North Korean government unilaterally confiscated land from landowners and distributed the land freely among peasants. The land reform ended within 20 days, and landowners were deported. The 90,000-strong Farmland Committee, which was responsible for the reform, registered for the Communist Party and became an important pillar for North Korean socialism.

North Korean land reform / implemented in March 1946
All privately owned land confiscated with no compensation and divided among farmers for free
Landowners are expelled from their homes

The Soviet Union implemented social reform following the land reform. Those who were against Communism were billed as pro-Japanese collaborators, reactionaries and anti-nationalists, and were all purged. 90% of North Korea’s major industrial facilities were nationalized.

North Korea’s social reform
Anti-Communists purged
90% of major industries nationalized

In August 1946, the Communist Party of North Korea absorbed the New People's Party of Korea, which was created by the Yan'an Communist faction's Korean Independence League, and established the Workers' Party of North Korea.

North Korea was making strides towards establishing a Socialist nation.

Communist Party of North Korea - Kim Il-sung
New People's Party of Korea - Kim Tu-bong
August 1946 Workers' Party of North Korea established

In the meantime, the Soviet Union called on the United States to establish a unified government through the Joint Commission.

6. First Round of Joint Commission Talks - Will a Unified Interim Government be Established?

On March 20, 1946, the first meeting of the US-USSR Joint Commission took place at Seokjojeon in Deoksugung Palace. The Commission reached an impasse on matters of selecting Korean parties and organizations to participate in the meeting.

March 20, 1946
First meeting of the US-Soviet Joint Commission

The Soviet Union insisted that only those parties and groups to support the Moscow Agreement, in other words to consent to the trusteeship should be allowed to participate in the meeting.

“Only groups that support the Moscow agreement should be allowed to participate.”

However, the United States opposed that stance, as this would mean that the committee would consist of only leftist parties and groups as Soviet affiliates.

Given freedom of speech, the US held that most Korean parties should be allowed to participate in a unified government whatever their announced attitude toward the Moscow Agreement.

“All groups and organizations should be able to participate since there is freedom of speech”

There was no room for compromise. Eventually, on May 8, the Joint Commission fell apart and entered indefinite recess.

May 8, 1946
First meeting of the US-Soviet Joint Commission held indefinitely on recess

Andrei Lankov, Professor of Korean Studies
Kookmin University
By the summer of 1946, the Cold War was in place. The Soviet Union judged that a unified nation was not needed and placed the responsibility of a divided nation on the United States. Hence, to the Soviets, the Joint Commission was merely a tool to avoid responsibility for the division of Korea, or to justify the division.

The US Army government and Korean political groups enter into heated debate and fight over Korea’s future.

7. National Circumstances since the Breakdown of the Joint Commission (1) - The US Army Government Proceeds a Leftists-Rights Coalition

The United States came up with a new strategy. One month after the breakdown of the Joint Commission, United States Assistant Secretary of State John Hildring issued an order to the US Army government in South Korea.

The United States’ new plan: a Leftists-Rights Coalition

John Hildring, Assistant Undersecretary of State

Who are these old political exiles who are deemed to be the factor behind the breakdown of the Joint Commission?

Lee Cheol-sun, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Pusan National University
It’s believed that the message was referring to Kim Koo’s provisional government and Syngman Rhee. The US State Department did not view Rhee in a favorable light. The United States had cooperated with the Soviet Union in World War 2. However, even before the war, Rhee constantly warned the State Department to be on the alert against the Soviet Union. Since Rhee’s return to Korea, he conflicted with the US on any kind of US-Soviet cooperation. As for Kim Koo, because Kim claimed that the provisional government should take over the government position from the US Army government after the anti-trusteeship activities of December 1945, Kim was also looked at in a very negative light.

The US State Department ordered the US Army government in Korea to rear new group who would cooperate with the US policy, excluding Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo. Following the orders, the US Army government looked for a new player. On June 30, 1946, Lieutenant General John Hodge of the US Army Government issued a declaration.

John Reed Hodge / Military governor of the US Army government

The US Army government supports Kim Kyu-sik and Lyuh Woon-hyung as part of promoting unity and collaboration

I am highly interested in the efforts of Kim Kyu-sik and Lyuh Woon-hyung to promote cooperation and unity among the important parties in South Korea. As the commanding officer of the United States military in Korea, I will acknowledge and support their efforts to the best of my ability.
- From Lieutenant General John Hodge’s announcement on June 30, 1946

The United States tried a new strategy, attempting to form a leftists-rightists coalition by calling together centrists, such as center-leftist Lyuh Woon-hyung and center-rightist Kim Kyu-sik.
From the early summer of 1946, with backing of US military government Kim and Lyuh pushed ahead the leftists-rightists coalition movement.
However, this movement could not become a mainstream in politics.

Kim Kyu-sik

Lyuh Woon-hyung

Lee Cheol-sun, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Pusan National University
A coalition government of leftists and rightists was ideal from the US Army government and the State Department’s point of view, but actually in the 1946 elections of the legislative assembly, no coalition member was voted. Members allied with the Korea Democratic Party or with Rhee were mostly elected. This showed the futileness of a coalition government. It was a policy that would not attract those who wielded power.

The United States was a country founded on the principles of Liberal Democracy. As such, it could not manipulate a left-right coalition by force in Korea.

After all it seemed as if the United States wasted precious time with its plan of Left-Right coalition from May 1946, in order to follow the Moscow agreement.

8. National Circumstances since the Breakdown of the Joint Commission (2) - Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo

With the United States supporting a moderate group and ignoring the rightists, Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo adopted a opposing stance to the US Army government.
Following the indefinite adjournment of the Joint Commission, Rhee, while on a provincial lecture tour outside Seoul, made a new proposal on June 3 in Jeongeup.

As at this point, it is not possible to create a unified government, and chances of the Joint Commission lifting its indefinite recess look slim, we need to establish a South Korean interim government, or committee and globally call for the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from above the 38th parallel. You will need to make a decision.
- June 3, 1946-

At that time, his statement was criticized for promoting a separate South Korean government.
Why did he make such a statement?

Shin Bok-ryong,
Former chair-professor of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy
Konkuk University
Syngman Rhee observed the exact fact that the future for the US-Soviet Joint Commission was bleak. Moreover, given his inherent anti-Communist leaning, Rhee believed that North Korea was assimilated much more by the Soviet Union than the case of South Korea by the United States, and that the People's Congress were already finalized in all over North Korea.
Rhee judged that even only South Korea being a free democracy would be a good outcome.

As Rhee was excluded from the coalition by the US military government, he attempted to deal with the US State Department directly and to change America’s policy toward Korea.
Rhee stayed in the United States from December 1946 to April 1947 and pushed his case for immediate elections and the formation of a government. However, the US stance until then was to follow the Moscow agreement and handle Korea-related issues through the Joint Commission, so Rhee’s proposals fell on deaf ears.

The six recommendations given to the State Department regarding Korean independence
1) Implementation of an interim government in South Korea until a general election will form a unified government
2) The interim government will discuss issues related to occupation with the United States and the Soviet Union, as long as US-Soviet relationships are unaffected
3) Immediately look into compensation by Japan as part of national reconstruction
- Dong-a Ilbo, February 2, 1947

In the meantime, Kim Koo continued anti-trusteeship protests and attempted to create an interim government apart from the US Army government. Kim rallied other anti-trusteeship parties and organizations to create a national assembly, through which he tried to establish a new interim government.

9. National Circumstances since the Breakdown of the Joint Commission (2) - The Leftists’ New Strategy

In the meantime, after the breakdown of the Joint Commission, communist forces also changed tactics and began attacking the US Army government.

July 1946
Communist Party announces new tactics

A turning point came when a case of counterfeit currency related to the Communist Party in Korea, was revealed on May 15, 1946. It was reported that the party had counterfeit bank notes made, and used them to pay its expenses.

A currency printing shop at the end of Japan’s colonial era was purchased by the Communist Party and turned into a printing shop for the bulletin “Haebang-ilbo”

“Full Account of Counterfeiting Incident to be Revealed”
16 involved in counterfeiting bills
All are members of the Communist Party
Dong-a Ilbo May 16 1946

The incident resulted in party leaders going on the run and the party organ, Daily Liberation, was discontinued, which was a major setback for the Communist Party.

The Communist Party, now on the defensive, adopted a new offensive tactics in July 1946, they sought to create a overall mass protest against the US Army government.

The leftists kicked off pgeneral strike in major cities in September, and in October, an massive uprising took place in Daegu, the third largest city in Korea, thus creating social and political chaos, as well as exacerbating an already bad economic situation.

The Communist Party’s new tactics
September – general strikes in major cities
October – large-scale strikes and uprisings

By 1946, North Korea was already firmly heading in the direction of Communism. South Korea, in contrast, was suffering from turmoils due to ineffective policies of the US and conflicts among several Korean political factions.

(The Korean Peninsula in 1946)
North Korea : Socialist drive by the Communist Party of North Korea
South Korea :
- Left-right coalition movement by the US Army government and the Korean Centrists Push by Syngman Rhee for a South Korean interim government
- Kim Koo’s anti-trusteeship drive
- Park Heon-young’s anti-US Army government movement

10. Breakdown of 2nd Round of Joint Commission Talks – What are the United States and the Soviet Union Seeking?

In the spring of 1947, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to reconvene the Joint Commission, and the meeting held in Pyongyang.

May 21, 1947
Second US-Soviet Joint Commission meeting

Both sides agreed to feature only organizations that would voice their support the Moscow agreement through written oaths.

(Agreements made by the US and Soviet Union)
“Only those submitting written affidavits in support of the Moscow agreement can participate.”

However, the Soviet Union claimed that organizations that issued such an affidavit while maintaining an anti-trusteeship activities, could not take part in the meeting.

Soviet Union
“The parties and groups continuing anti-trusteeship movement cannot participate in the meeting, even if they submit written affidavits in support of the Moscow agreement ”

Eventually, the second round of talks broke down.

The United States wanted to quickly resolve the Korean issue. So the US sought to go beyond the framework of the Moscow Agreement and the Joint Commission which lost validity already.

In August, during the second round of Joint Commission talks, the United States proposed a four-party meeting of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and China to discuss the Korean issue.
The Soviet side refused that proposal, whereupon the United States took the issue to the United Nations.

United States
“Let’s have a four-party meeting of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China to discuss Korea.”

Soviet Union

In September, the United States informed the Soviet Union that they had no choice but to transfer the Korean issue to the UN. Following this, the US requested that the Korean issue be incorporated into the UN General Assembly’s agenda.

United States
“No choice but to hand the Korean issue over to the United Nations.”

Lee Cheol-sun, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Pusan National University
The US State Department and the US military had conflicting views about Korea even before the breakdown of the second round of Joint Commission talks. The military wanted to withdraw US forces from Korea as soon as possible because they thought Korea was of little strategic value. Conversely, the State Department opposed a quick withdrawal because US standing in the world hung heavily on what happened on the Korean peninsula. After much interagency debate, the two sides agreed in September 1947 to withdraw forces and pass the issue over to the United Nations. This meant that the United States had decided to create separate government in southern Korea.
The reason why the issue was passed to the United Nations was that since the United States had considerable influence in the United Nations and many nations were allied with the United States, it would be an ideal place for the United States to seek its resolution.

On September 23, 1947, the UN General Assembly agreed to put the Korea issue on its agenda, and the Korean issue entered a new phase

September 23, 1947
The United Nations General Assembly places Korea on its agenda

11. Korean Independence in the United Nations – What Fate Lies for Korea?

On November 14, the General Assembly convened and voted for general election encompassing both Koreas under UN supervision.

November 14, 1947
The United Nations General Assembly decides to conduct nationwide elections under UN supervision

Around two months later, on January 8, 1948, the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea arrived in Korea and attempted to plot a course toward nation-wide general elections.

January 8, 1948
The United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea arrives in Korea

The commission conducted surveys in South Korea, and attempted to do so in North Korea, but was blocked by the Soviet Union.

The United Nations convened a mini-assembly on February 26 and decided on elections in the area of Korea where supervision of election would be possible, that is in South Korea.

February 26, 1948
The United Nations mini-Assembly decides to hold elections in areas where UN observation of election is possible

According to election laws enacted in March, the number of parliamentary representatives was set to 200 from the South and 100 from the North, based on the proportional distribution of the population. The May 10 Constitution Assembly elections also aimed for reunification.

Representative numbers
South Korea: 200
North Korea: 100

March 18, 1948
US Army government announces parliamentary election laws

12. Efforts by Leftists of North and South Korea to Disrupt Elections – Violent Conflict

Once the United States requested help from the United Nations, the Soviet Union and Communist elements from both the North and the South attempted to block the election vote.
They were against the UN-supervised unified elections, and they instead called for the withdrawal of both the United States and the Soviet Union Army to let the Koreans solve issues on their own. While this sounded like a good solution, it was actually part of their efforts to communize the Korean Peninsula.

The demands raised by the Soviet Union and Communists of both Koreas
- Opposition against the UN-supervised unified elections
- Early withdrawal of US and Soviet forces
- Letting Koreans alone handle the issue of Korea

Yang Dong-an, Professor Emeritus
The Academy of Korean Studies
n northern Korea, communist policies were thoroughly in effect. In the South, leftist forces were also demonstrating their formable power. At the same time, rightist forces splitted, and centrists were going in their own direction. Under these circumstances, if a meeting embracing northern and southern political forces had been held, then the northen communist regime and the southern leftist forces would have taken lead in the meeting, resulting in their victory. It is for this reason that the Soviet Union proposed rapid withdrawal of US and Soviet forces from the Korean peninsula.

The Workers’ Party of South Korea was ready for violence. On February 7, 1948, the workers, peasants and students of the Party went on strike opposing separate elections and governments, resulting in bloody crash between protestors and the police.

February 7, 1948
February 7 General Strike

The election date was set for May 10.
On April 3, elements of the Workers’ Party in southern Jeju-island embarked on an armed rebellion to prevent the election from going ahead. As a result, not only could elections not properly take place, but also many civilians died in the process of suppressing operations launched by the military and the police. It was a real tragedy.

April 3, 1948
Jeju April 3 Incident

13. The Change of South Korean Centrists’ Stance – Opposition to Separate Election and Separate Government

In the midst of violent conflicts between South Korean rightists and South-North Korean leftists about the election under UN surveillance, South Korean Centrists with rightist Kim Koo changed their stance against the election. They thought that the separation of two Koreas would be set by the election.

Centrists like Kim Kyu-sik had once supported the UN-supervised nation-wide general elections. But They changed their stance in early 1948. They called for the early withdrawal of US and Soviet forces and for the South-North negotiations.

Kim Kyu-sik

Rightist leader Kim Koo initially supported the UN-supervised elections like Syngman Rhee. However, he changed his stance in late January and also called for the withdrawal of forces and for the South-North leader dialogue.

In early February, Kim Koo and Kim Kyu-sik called for a north-south leadership summit with Kim Il-sung and Kim Tu-bong.

North Korean regime proposed a meeting more than a month later on March 25. They proposed a conference of all figures who were against the separate elections in southern Korea on April 14 in Pyongyang.

If this had been an offer with good will for true negotiations, North Korean regime should have had talks with Kim Koo and Kim Kyu-sik as the South Korean negotiation partners about scheduling the meeting or setting the agenda. Instead, North Korea unilaterally set the date and topics and made them public.

Shin Bok-ryong,
Former chair-professor of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy
Konkuk University
Why did North Korea request for South Korean leaders? North Korea wanted to avoid historical criticism for creating a separate government in North Korea. It was with these motives that North Korea called on South Korean leaders.

At first the proposal was delivered unilaterally via Radio Pyongyang, and then invitation letters were sent to Kim Koo, Kim Kyu-sik and other southern Korean leaders.

Kim Koo and Kim Kyu-sik were worried that maybe they were merely being used by the North Korean government, but still headed northward, with true patriotic mind, seeing it as the last chance to stop the division of their homeland.

April 19, 1948
Kim Koo heads to North Korea

The conference in Pyongyang from beginning to end consisted only of criticism of the separate elections that were to take place in southern Korea. There was nothing that could be considered to be “negotiations.”

April 19, 1948
Conference of pan-Korean parties and social organizations heads

Yang Dong-an, Professor Emeritus
The Academy of Korean Studies
The North Korean government acted out a pre-prepared scenario for the actual meeting. The South Korean delegation merely expressed support for the propositions given by the North Korean government and signed the documents confirming their support at the end of the meeting.

The Soviet Union was behind North Korea. One week prior to the meeting taking place, the Politburo of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party sent a message to the Soviet occupying forces in Pyongyang.

Decision by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party
Report number 63, section 38
April 12, 1948

< Advice for Comrade Kim Il-sung >
When running the conference, be sure to stay in accordance to the following political basics.
- Boycott the South Korean independent elections which are taking place in order to delay reunion and independence.
- Respond to the South Korean reference of the Soviet Union’s stance of withdrawing all foreign soldiers from South Korea by demanding that North Korea too demands the withdrawal of foreign troops


Written decision on the state of political affairs of Korea (April 26, 1948)
The groups of both North and South Korea must break up the independent elections of South Korea, and struggle fiercely to implement the Soviet Union’s suggestion that foreign forces in Korea should be withdrawn immediately and Koreans should be given the rights to establish a unified democratic independent state.

The contents of the declaration made two weeks later in the conference were identical to the document issued by the Soviet Union.

Kim Koo’s delegation returned to Seoul on May 5. Kim’s desire to prevent the division of Korea had been thwarted by the machinations of North Korea and the Soviet Union, and his trip proved to be fruitless. There were only five days left until elections.

14. The People Practice Their Rights – The May 10 Election

May 10, 1948
Constitutional Assembly election

May 10, 1948 is the most important day in Korean history. Registered voters were able to take part in Korea’s first-ever truly democratic election. To that effect, every eligible voter regardless of gender and age in all of South Korea braved many different kinds of threats and boldly headed for polling stations, where they chose their desired candidates based on their own free will, casting their precious votes.

On May 10, the Taegukgi flew on every house, people dressed in white and lined up in the polling station.
Some were confused as they didn’t know what to do, and some were very cautious as they voted lest they make a mistake.

Kang Won-taek, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Seoul National University
While UN observers mentioned a few problems, in the big picture, these elections are considered to be fair.
What was noteworthy was that the turnout rate was 95.5%, a turnout rate that is unheard of today. Many citizens wanted to play a part in creating their own independent nation.

The elections took place under the watch of the 30 observers part of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. With an estimated 95.5% voter turnout rate, 198 out of 904 candidates were voted into the National Assembly.

Election results
Voter turnout rate: 95.5%
198 members elected

15. South Korea’s Ideals are Gathered – The First Constitution

On May 31, the Constitutional Assembly was called into session. The assembly was named as such because it was responsible for creating a new Constitution, and it was Korea’s first-ever parliament. Syngman Rhee was elected as the chairperson.

May 31, 1948
Constitutional Assembly is inaugurated

Speaker Syngman Rhee’s opening address
This assembly represents all Koreans, and I declare that the government that is born from this assembly is the central government that represents all of Korea.

On July 17, the Constitution of the Republic Korea was adopted.
What kind of a nation were people dreaming of? One can tell just by reading the Constitution.

Yoo Jin-oh’s draft of the Constitution

(Constitution of the Republic Korea)
Article 1 – The Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic.
Article 2 – The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people.
- Issue 1 of the Official Gazette, Provisions for the first constitution

Kang Gyeong-geun, Professor of Law
Soongsil University
This new country established in accordance with the first Constitution sought to uphold the principles of freedom, democracy and a market economy. The powers with limited in order to guarantee the basic rights of its people. We should not forget the fact that it gained its legitimacy as a state by being formed as the sole sovereign state on the Korean peninsula.

On July 20, Assembly members held elections for the country’s first president.

Syngman Rhee was elected the inaugural president with 180 votes.

July 20, 1948
First presidential election takes place

Syngman Rhee elected as inaugural president

Granting me the honorary title of President has moved me deeply, and I cannot express my thanks enough.

16. The Republic of Korea is Established

On August 15, 1948, 3 years after liberation, inaugural president Syngman Rhee stood in front of the Korean people to declare the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea.

August 15. 1948
Declaration of the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea

President Syngman Rhee’s congratulatory speech
Today, August 15, marks both our independence as well as the birth of our new democratic nation.
Today, the Han nation, one of the East’s oldest nations is restored as the government of the Republic of Korea, and this is the result of dreaming, hoping and fighting heroically for the past 40 years.

An independent government was finally established. It was the first such government in 38 years since Japan’s colonization of Korea, and the 3-year-long period of the US Army government came to a close. The independent nation that people were dreaming of had finally been born with the name of the Republic of Korea.

On December 12, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly confirmed that the Korean issue was satisfactorily taken care of, and passed a resolution saying that it recognized the government of the Republic of Korea as the sole legitimate government of the Korean Peninsula.

December 12, 1948
The United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution confirming the government of the Republic of Korea

(UN Resolution)
“Declares that there has been established a lawful government (the Government of the Republic of Korea) having effective control and jurisdiction over that part of Korea where the Temporary Commission was able to observe and consult (and in which the great majority of the people of all Korea reside; that this Government is based on elections which were a valid expression of the free will of the electorate of that part of Korea and which were observed by the Temporary Commission;)... and that this is the only such Government in Korea.”

Kim Myeong-seop, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Yonsei University
The nation-building ideas held since the days of the Provisional Government now had global overtones. Because the Republic of Korea got international recognition, the international community could intervene to save the Republic of Korea when it was on the verge of disappearing from the map during the Korean War. The War began on June 25, 1950, and soon after, the international community sent United Nations soldiers and did what was necessary to ensure the survival of the Republic of Korea.

Kang Won-taek, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Seoul National University
I believe that this isn't a question of whether that government is the only lawful government or not, but rather, it is a symbol of the freeness and fairness of the elections.

17. Declaration of North Korean Communist State

About twenty days later, on September 9, North Korea established itself as a nation. North Korea had already chosen a country name for itself and passed a draft version of its constitution.

In August, underground elections prepared by Communists in South Korea took place.

On September 2, the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea ratified North Korea’s constitution, formed the Cabinet, created the nation’s highest courts and Kim Il-sung was appointed premier.

On September 9, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was declared.

September 9, 1948
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is established

Andrei Lankov, Professor of Korean Studies
Kookmin University
North Korea was waiting. What for? For the Republic of Korea to be declared in southern Korea. Why? This was an issue of responsibility. North Korea’s leadership wanted to avoid appearing responsible for the Korea’s division.

18. Epilogue

The newly formed Republic of Korea did not have everything.

However, for the first time in the history of the Han people, the nation was a nation where sovereignty belonged to the people. People could freely make use of their talents, and the nation guaranteed due rewards to those who worked hard.

Shin Bok-ryong,
Former chair-professor of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy
Konkuk University
During the 3 years after liberation, there was a very ambiguous state of the nation, where Korea wasn't a semi-colony or a colony, but at the same time, wasn't liberated or independent. The establishment of state in 1948 marked the end of 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, as well as the formation of a nation-state and the implementation of capitalism. In that sense, it is certain that it deserves to be considered as a blessing, even if half-blessing.

Park Seong-su, Professor Emeritus
The Academy of Korean Studies
The argument that the formation of the South Korean government caused the division of Korea into North and South is not correct, because North Korea had already established a National People's Congress, actually creating a nation. They hid the fact that they founded a nation. If the South Korean government hadn't been established, we would have lost our independence forever, or have become a Communist nation.

Lee Cheol-sun, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Pusan National University
Think about it. In 1948 in East Asia, Russia was a complete Communist country, and North Korea was totally under Kim Il-sung’s rule. It was very difficult to protect the rest half of the Korean Peninsula and making a free democracy country.

Kang Won-taek, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy
Seoul National University
Though the Republic of Korea was puny and unstable at the start and suffered from many difficulties and mistakes since then, I think that the republic of Korea overcame those weaknesses and today it is on the another starting line towards a better future, and for a larger community that incorporates North Korea.

The start of the nation was bumpy with some imperfections and flaws. However, these imperfections and flaws could be cured, and the nation has been on the right historical developmental path.
This nation is none other than the Republic of Korea.

A nation that has been on the right historical developmental path

This is the Republic of Korea