He forced the giant conglomerates to restructure, and he shocked South Koreans by letting the recalcitrant Daewoo Group — believed too big to fail — to collapse. At the time, it was the worlds largest bankruptcy.
Throwing open the previously closed capital and real estate markets to foreigners, he oversaw takeovers of local companies. It was a bitter pill, but South Korea managed to pull out of its recession within a year.
It was as would-be peacemaker with North Korea that Mr. Kim made perhaps his greatest mark as president.
Ditching decades of containment and confrontation, Mr. Kim promoted economic and political engagement with Pyongyang. He dubbed this strategy the “Sunshine Policy — named after the Aesops fable in which a warm sun, rather than a chill wind, compels a man to ditch his protective coat.
Mr. Kim enlisted legendary entrepreneur Chung Ju-yung, the founder of the Hyundai Group and a one-time North Korean refugee himself, to open a joint tourism resort at the scenic Mount Kumgang on North Koreas east coast in 1998.
Such a project, which was soon channeling millions into Pyongyangs coffers, would have been unthinkable previously.
In 2000, Mr. Kim became the first South Korean leader to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-il, at a summit in Pyongyang.
Later that year, he became Koreas first Nobel Peace Price winner for his pro-democracy and peacemaking efforts.
The peninsula seemed on the verge of a breakthrough, but opposition from the incoming George W. Bush administration and reluctance by North Korea to follow through on promises made at the summit all but put reconciliation efforts on hold throughout the remainder if Mr. Kim’s five-year term in office.
Still, Mr. Kim never gave up his basic belief that engagement could bring peace and eventual reunification to the Korean peninsula, drawing criticism when he repeatedly declined to criticize Pyongyangs human rights records.
Mr. Kim’s engagement policy continued during the following administration of President Roh Moo-hyun against a backdrop of growing criticism and cynicism. North Korea went on to build and test two atomic bombs. South Korea’s engagement efforts virtually halted after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took power in 2008.
The last surviving ray of sunshine is the Kaesong joint industrial zone in North Korea. The Mount Kumgang tourist project was shuttered last summer after a Southern tourist was shot and killed after apparently straying into a restricted zone.
On Sunday, the chairwoman of Hyundai Asan, the Hyundai arm that carries out North Korean business, met with the North Korean leader in an effort to get economic engagement back on track.
Mr. Kim is survived by his wife, Lee Hee-ho, a prominent human rights activist, and three sons
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