HC Deb 11 June 1952 vol 502 cc197-202
37 and 38. Mr. Elwyn Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) how far President Syngman Rhee's proclamation of martial law will affect the position and responsibilities of British and United Nations' forces in Korea;

(2) what are the representations which have been made by Her Majesty's Government, either to the United Nations Commission in Korea or to President Syngman Rhee, regarding the arrests by President Syngman Rhee of members of the National Assembly of South Korea and his proclamation of martial law.

39. Mr. M. Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he has taken, in view of the unconstitutional proceedings of the President of the South Korean Republic, which may endanger the operations of British forces in Korea.

41. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps the British representatives with the South Korean Government are taking to represent the concern of Her Majesty's Government that parliamentary government and full democracy should be maintained in South Korea.

42. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the exact nature of the British Government's representations on the political situation existing there to the Government of Southern Korea.

Mr. Eden

As the answer is rather long, I will, with permission, give it at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions—

Mr. Eden

On 24th May the President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Syngman Rhee, proclaimed martial law in Pusan on the pretext of increased guerrilla activities near the city. I am satisfied, from the evidence available to me, that these activities did not warrant such a step.

At the same time nine members of the Assembly were arrested, some on a charge of having trafficked in Communist funds, others for voting in favour of the release of a member of the Assembly, So Min-Ho, who had been arrested on a charge of murdering a South Korean army officer. The disturbances which followed his release had been made a subsidiary reason for imposing martial law.

On 28th May the National Assembly voted for the lifting of martial law. In refusing to heed this vote the President is, we consider, acting unconstitutionally. On the same day the United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea—on which incidentally, neither Her Majesty's Government nor the United States Government are represented—addressed a letter to the President urging the lifting of martial law in Pusan and the release of the arrested members of the Assembly, without prejudice to their possible subsequent prosecution, in accordance with constitutional principles, for any infringements of the law which they may have committed.

The Commission also again offered their good offices to the Korean authorities in furthering the progress of the Republic of Korea along democratic lines. Similar messages have subsequently been sent to the President by President Truman, the Australian Minister for External Affairs and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

As to action by Her Majesty's Government, on 4th June, Her Majesty's Charge d'Affaires in Pusan informed President Rhee in a personal interview of the concern of Her Majesty's Government at recent political developments in South Korea and strongly urged him to abide by the Constitution. Mr. Adams has since been instructed to continue to point out to the Government of the Republic of Korea that any threat to the democratic character of that Republic, from whatever quarter, would be a negation of the principles which the members of the United Nations, with their forces in Korea, have been fighting to defend.

The United Nations forces in Korea entered the war to resist aggression and to uphold the principle of collective security. They have no wish to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign state established under United Nations auspices in 1948. Nevertheless, the danger of political instability and of disturbances on their lines of communication, and the effect which this might have on a large number of troops fighting at their side is a matter of deep concern to them.

Her Majesty's Government's sole concern is to see that democratic and constitutional principles are duly observed. The first pre-requisite is a return to constitutional government by the lifting of martial law and the release of the arrested members of the Assembly. As a result of the joint representations to which I have referred, I hope that this will soon be done.

Mr. Jones

Could the Foreign Secretary say what has been the reply of President Syngman Rhee to these representations?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. There has been a good deal of argument and discussion, which is still proceeding through various representations. If the hon. Gentleman would like further details, and if he will put down a Question, I will give them.

Mr. Jones

Is it right that President Syngman Rhee has suggested that United Nations agencies should be removed from South Korea?

Mr. Eden

I do not think—in fact, I am certain—that no such communication was made to our representative when he had his interview.

Mrs. Castle

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be intolerable if, after the United Nations had taken up arms to prevent the North Koreans imposing a regime on the South by force, President Syngman Rhee, under United Nations protection, should be allowed to do the very same thing? In view of that, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, if President Syngman Rhee continues to defy the United Nations, our Government should press for his removal from office?

Mr. Eden

I have chosen my words rather carefully in this matter since it is not an easy one to weigh in all its responsibility, and I would rather leave my comments and sentiments in the words I have given.

Mr. Hollis

Could the Foreign Secretary make it clear whose is the responsibility for the action against Communist guerrillas in South Korea? The Under-Secretary was good enough to say to me yesterday that the responsibility was transferred in April from the military to the civil authorities and that now suitable action is being taken. But by whom is the suitable action being taken? Is it by us or by the South Korean Government?

Mr. Eden

I think my hon. Friend has raised an important point which arises in all these questions. The authority was transferred to the South Korean Government and it is their responsibility now.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that—I think I speak for all of us on this side—[Laughter.] I am trying to put a not unhelpful supplementary question. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very glad about the action we have taken, and he can take it that he has the support of the whole House in the arguments that he has put forward?

Mr. Bellenger

To put this matter in its right legal proportions, and in view of the fact that war-like operations are taking place in South Korea, could the right hon. Gentleman say where the line of demarcation lies between the civil authority and the military authority in proclaiming martial law?

Mr. Eden

That is not an easy question to answer. There is a division of responsibility in that the South Korean authorities have relatively recently been given the responsibility for dealing with guerrilla activities in certain areas. In that respect I suppose the argument for the proclamation of martial law could be maintained. What we are criticising is the declaration of martial law within the city for which, on all our information, there is no justification.

Mr. Donnelly

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that whilst we have United Nations troops in Korea and a military C.-in-C. in Korea, we have special powers in that country at this moment? Is there any legal power for the British Government to make representations to the United Nations Commander in Korea to remove President Syngman Rhee should the situation ever arise?

Mr. Eden

We have special responsibilities but we have also, I think, a general desire that events in South Korea should develop along democratic lines. Even if we dislike some of his conduct, I think we ought to be careful to proceed by constitutional means in trying to check that conduct least we should be guilty of making the position worse by our own attitude.

Mr. A. Henderson

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential not to go outside the authority conferred upon our Forces by the Charter of the United Nations?

Mr. Eden

That is exactly the point. In addition to which we have to remember that there are a number—I think 10 at least—of South Korean divisions who are loyally in the line at our side.

Mr. Wyatt

Have we made it clear to President Syngman Rhee that if he is elected as President again by 25th June, as the Constitution requires, as the result of having arrested a sufficient number of his opponents in the Assembly to give him a majority, we shall be unable to recognise the validity of his re-election as President?

Mr. Eden

The main facts in this situation show that we should not try too much to understand the politics of other countries. I understand that the President would have had a majority in the Assembly before these events so, what his majority will be like now, I am afraid I cannot say.