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Digital Archive International History Declassified

October 30, 1973

MEMORANDUM ON THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN KIM IL SUNG AND TODOR ZHIVKOV

This document was made possible with support from the ROK Ministry of Unification, Leon Levy Foundation

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    Todor Zhivkov, First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, reports on his meeting with Kim Il Sung. Zhivkov and Kim discussed global detente and the Cold War, Chinese-North Korean relations, collective security in Asia, North Korea's views of COMECON, Korean unification, and factionalism in the Korean Workers' Party.
    "Memorandum on the Conversation between Kim Il Sung and Todor Zhivkov" October 30, 1973, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, From the personal collection of former Bulgarian diplomat Georgi Mitov. Translated by Donna Kovacheva. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114533
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RE: SOME ASPECTS OF MY CONVERSATIONS WITH COMRADE KIM IL SUNG

First of all, I would like to point out that during our visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, our delegation was bestowed with extraordinary attention and hospitality. As our Korean comrades pointed out (and our comrades at the Embassy in Pyongyang confirmed later), they had not hosted a similar reception for any other delegation in recent years. From our statement below it will become clear that the great hospitality and attention shown to us was, to a great extent, addressed towards the Soviet Union.

I will cover some aspects of our conversations with comrade Kim Il Sung at the official meeting of the two delegations, and more specifically, of the conversations between the two of us on the train, on our way from Pyongyang to the town of Hamheung and back.

I am relaying these conversations in brief and from memory. The conversations between us were lengthy: the first conversation on the train lasted three hours and the second one about two hours and a half.

I will cover some of the issues that we discussed with comrade Kim Il Sung:

1. On the issue of détente of the international situation, the transition from the stage of “Cold War” towards peaceful coexistence of countries with different social systems.

I spoke about this issue during the official meetings between the two delegations and, later, during my face-to-face talks with comrade Kim Il Sung. The task I had assigned myself was: to explain that the policy of peaceful coexistence, which we, brotherly, socialist countries conduct now, is a class, internationalist policy; a policy that coincides with the key interests and the struggle of the international communist and labor movement, of the workers’ class across the world, the national liberation movement, that the policy of détente creates favorable conditions for expanding the global revolutionary process, gives and will continue to give, positive results on all continents on our planet. I pointed out that it was this situation, indeed, that created an opportunity to end the war in Vietnam, the Middle East, etc. I pointed out that the assertion of this policy and its practical results are a major victory for our socialist countries, for the progressive part of mankind, a victory gained in the course of struggles lasting decades. I pointed out the role of the Soviet Union in this regard, the great significance of the Soviet Union’s peace program adopted at the XXIV Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the personal merit of comrade Leonid Ilich Brezhnev.

My statement visibly impressed comrade Kim Il Sung. At the end of the official meetings, he stated that they approved of this policy and after our conversation, he had learned certain things and understood them better.

2. On relations with China and China’s leadership

The second issue that we discussed with comrade Kim Il Sung was about the relationship with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese leadership.

At the official meeting between the two delegations, I spoke briefly about the issue of our relations with the Chinese. I only spoke about what their Embassy was doing in Sofia, and pointed out that they were trying to establish pro-Chinese groups in Bulgaria. We provided them with a contingent for these groups from the Secret Service and they were established. But after some time, we told the Chinese that we should no longer play a game of hide and seek, that these were no pro-Chinese groups of any kind, but employees of our Secret Service, and that this game should stop. Now, the Chinese Embassy in Sofia is gathering and exchanging information with the American and other diplomatic missions in Sofia and leading a policy of discrediting Bulgaria before the other diplomatic missions.

In my face-to-face talks with comrade Kim Il Sung, however, I spoke in detail about the Chinese issue, pointing out the following:

- On the neutrality of our Korean comrades in their discord with the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China: I pointed out that by adhering to neutral positions on the Chinese dissent with the communist movement, in principle, this means support of the policy and the dissident activity of the Chinese, practical approval of the anti-Soviet policy conducted by the Chinese leadership. This could push the Chinese towards most dangerous steps with unpredictable outcomes for the smaller countries in Asia. Such a position means departure from the policy of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism.

- On the Chinese theory of so-called “super states”, the division of the world, not into socialist and capitalist states, but rather into big and small states, into white and colored: I pointed out that this theory is anti-Marxist and is taken from the ideological arsenal of imperialism, that the Chinese are using it as a tool in their struggle against the Soviet Union. You cannot put the Soviet Union and the USA on one plate.

- On the Chinese thesis about the socialist imperialism of the Soviet Union, the “threat from the North,” and the Chinese provocations along the Soviet-Chinese border: China points out the country of Lenin, the first socialist country in the world, as enemy number one not imperialism.

This was also openly expressed at the 10th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. No “threat from the North” exists. It is a fact that China used weapons against the Soviet Union, that it constantly launches provocations against the Soviet Union. The talks about the “threat from the North” are demagogy. The Chinese need them for internal consumption and to play around with the imperialists. It is difficult to understand why China did not accept even one of the numerous specific proposals made by the Soviet Union for regulating and normalizing Soviet-Chinese relations.

- On the practical alliance of the Chinese with the most reactionary forces in the international arena: In support of this, I pointed out a series of facts: Zhou Enlai’s appeal towards the Americans not to withdraw their troops from the Far East; the diplomatic relations between Peking and Franco; the expulsion of Allende’s Ambassador from Peking, the practical support of the military junta in Chile, the support that the Chinese render to the reactionary forces in many countries in dealing with the communists, etc.

In conclusion on this matter, I summarized that we were talking not about some Chinese-Russian dispute, but about principle ideological and political disagreements between China’s leadership on one side and the socialist community and the international communist movement as a whole on the other; and that the policy of the Chinese leadership was contrary to the collective policy developed by the brotherly parties for unification of the anti-imperialist forces.

Comrade Kim Il Sung responded on the issue about their relationship with China as follows:

We – he said – do not agree with China’s policy. It is incomprehensible to us. It is incomprehensible to us why they speak about Soviet socialist imperialism, that there is socialist imperialism in the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union there is no socialist imperialism and there is no socialist imperialism at all. We do not share China’s idea about the two super states. We do not agree with their theories, which they spread in the past as well, about the blooming of all flowers, the contradictions in socialist society, the peasant communities, the Cultural Revolution, etc.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese set up along our border, which is 1,300 km long, loud speakers and they broadcast propaganda against our country day and night. The population along the border could not sleep. My son visited a village along the border at the time. When he came back he said, “Dad, I could not sleep a single night.”

When the Chinese launched a military provocation along the Soviet border along the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, they launched a military provocation in our country too (he mentioned the name of the river and the village, but I could not remember them). The story that Kim Il Sung told was the following: In this village we had soldiers and armed villagers (along the border our people bear arms), about 50 people; and the Chinese penetrated into our country with 100 armed soldiers and officers. I was out in the country at the time (on Saturdays and Sundays I usually go out in the country and I read,) and they told me about this infiltration by the Chinese soldiers. I gave instructions to our people to let them in and not to shoot at them straight away. But, if they tried to advance further into our territory and carry out actions – our people were to block their way and capture at least five of them alive. The Chinese solders, however, penetrated into our territory and after that withdrew, without undertaking any action. There were similar, less significant, incidents in other places along the border, too.

I was in China last year. The reason for my visit was to meet with Sihanouk. The invitation was also from the Chinese. They groomed me at length against the Soviet Union. In the end, I told them that to us, the Soviet Union, the Soviet people are our brothers-in-arms, just as you, Chinese, are our brothers-in-arms. China is a big country and they believe that they can exist and fight on their own. They do not recognize the international communist movement. We have a saying: “Mountains have high and low peaks, but people are the same.” (I don’t know if the interpreter interpreted it correctly. He was Korean.)

China’s policy in relation to the events in Chile is incomprehensible to us. Now, after the military junta’s coup d’état, there are three embassies of socialist countries still remaining: those of China, Rumania, and Albania. I don’t know the situation with the Vietnamese Embassy. After the Cuban Embassy, our embassy in Chile was the second one against which the military junta carried out provocations and made the future work of the Embassy impossible. China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Franco’s Spain is also incomprehensible to us.

We do not have a neutral policy towards China. But because of our specific situation, we are just keeping our mouths shut. There is a front against us in the South. Opening our mouths would mean opening up a second front. China is all around us. We have a small border with the Soviet Union. In the country, among the party and the people, we do not disseminate their theories and their views. We print out some of their speeches, they print some of ours. But, we do not publish in the press what is contrary to our policy, we delete it.

In the course of our face-to-face conversation, comrade Kim Il Sung pointed out several times: we do not have a neutral policy towards China; we do not intend to maintain such a policy in the future either. We do not disseminate their concepts inside our country. I believe you are right in maintaining an open struggle against the Chinese. But you have to understand us and our situation here, in this region of the world.

I raised the question: How do you, comrade Kim Il Sung see the future? Isn’t there a danger for the nationalist, chauvinistic, super-state, and adventurous policy of China’s leadership to bring about most unpredictable consequences aimed against the smaller countries and nations in Asia, and sacrifice their interests in favor of the super-state goals of Beijing? Isn’t there a danger everything that is most holy to you and to your people to be destroyed and desecrated tomorrow?

To this question, comrade Kim Il Sung answered: Nobody knows what will be tomorrow. That is possible, and we keep track of it. That is why we teach our people against subservience to other countries. In our country, we aim this not against the Soviet Union, but against China. China has influence in our country. Our language has many Chinese words in it.

When we discussed the Chinese issue, comrade Kim Il Sung pointed out: This is my understanding on this issue. This is our policy. And this is not my understanding only. You, comrade Zhivkov, you see the people in our delegation, these are young people. They think the same as well and keep the same in mind in everything they do.

3. On collective security in Asia

I took the initiative on this topic and spoke first, keeping in mind that comrade Kim Il Sung could get carried away and express views that are incorrect. What I said was basically the following:

- What does it mean to talk about collective security in Asia at this stage? At this stage, it is only an idea launched by the Soviet Union. By no means does it mean that this idea is to be achieved tomorrow. This is a task for the future, a task for the time yet to come. To turn it into a material force, the idea for collective security in Asia must become a collective task of the Asian people and it must be outlined in a program.

- The Soviet comrades, too, comrade Brezhnev, and you understand that the situation in Asia is very complicated, it is more complicated than in Europe and the idea for collective security in Asia will not be realized that quickly.

- But we, as Marxists-Leninists, are interested in developing this process, to eliminate the opportunity for generating military conflicts on the largest continent on earth. Moreover, post-World War II, most military conflicts are in Asia and there is a danger for this continent to become a region of sharp and constant tension, serious conflicts, and military clashes.

- Without this process of establishing collective security in Asia, I don’t see how it would be possible for North and South Korea to unite.

- This development will change the ratio of forces in favor of the democratic forces, of socialism; it will give an opportunity to the Asian people to rise up in arms for more favorable conditions.

On the issue of collective security in Asia, comrade Kim Il Sung stated that until now they had not spoken out either in support of the idea, or against it. We have not published anything in the press on this issue. First of all, we would like to clarify what our Soviet comrades have in mind and what they propose in relation to this idea initiated by comrade Brezhnev. I spoke with comrade Polyansky on this issue some years ago as well, and with comrade Novikov during the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But they spoke in general terms, they did not tell me anything specific. That is why we want to clarify these issues before we take a stance. Let the Soviet comrades send us a letter and explain the essence of the idea – along party or government lines – or send us other materials about it.

In relation to this, I told him that because we are in the Balkans, we deal more with Balkan and European problems, but apparently this case is about the following: the realization of this idea and the development of a program for its implementation will include the following key areas:

First, it will guarantee the independence and sovereignty of all countries on the Asian continent – large and small – their independent development, without foreign intervention;

Second, it will further strengthen and develop the progressive and democratic regimes in most Asian countries;

Third, it will bring about the elimination of foreign imperialistic military bases and the withdrawal of foreign troops on this continent, and it is well-known that the foreign troops and bases are the American troops and bases;

Fourth, in the future it will open wider opportunities to speed up the revolutionary process on this continent, in all Asian non-socialist countries;

Fifth, it will also create, as I had pointed out previously, more favorable conditions for the unification of North and South Korea. We should not harbor any illusions that the unification of Korea will take place without speeding up the process of Asian security.

I pointed out that the Chinese are against this idea, because, according to them, it was directed against them and was aimed at surrounding them. This, however, is not true, because China, as one of the largest countries in Asia, will have to take part in the system of collective security as well.

In the end, comrade Kim Il Sung stated that, as comrade Zhivkov had pointed out, this was a difficult issue, he agreed with what was said, and concluded that it had to be developed further.

4. On the coordination of our actions in the international arena

During our conversations with comrade Kim Il Sung we spoke at length about the issue of coordinating our actions in the international arena and in the area of economic cooperation. The key issues that I pointed out in this regard were as follows:

- Korea should not isolate itself from us, from the socialist countries, from the Soviet Union, on key issues; coordinated unified actions in the international arena should be ensured.

- Bilateral cooperation between the countries alone is not enough. It is important, however, to ensure coordination and alignment of our actions and initiatives in the international arena. I pointed out that I understand the situation of Korea right now. But despite this, you should find ways and forms for such coordination. I pointed out that for them, too, coordination was extremely necessary. I pointed out that it was of utmost importance for them to maintain coordination with the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, especially between him and comrade Brezhnev. In this regard, establishing constant personal ties and consultations between comrades Brezhnev and Kim Il Sung would play a crucial role in favor of socialism, in favor of our common cause and, in particular, in favor of Korea. In this connection, I spoke in detail about comrade L. I. Brezhnev as a communist, as a leader, and a comrade.

In principle, Kim Il Sung did not object to what I said. However, there were some nuances in the explanation he gave later.

What did he say in essence on this issue? For example, he said the following: We were supposed to meet with comrade Brezhnev last year, but because he was very busy this meeting did not take place. This year I had to go to Moscow to meet with comrade Brezhnev. But, because of the meetings with representatives from the South, and because of the Politburo prohibits me from traveling by plane, I did not meet with comrade Brezhnev (the reason for this decision of the Politburo of the Korean Workers’ Party was the plane crash – as I remember, an IL-18 – in which all passengers died, among them prominent Korean actors). Comrade Kim Il Sung suggested that this meeting with comrade Brezhnev take place somewhere in the middle between Pyongyang and Moscow.

Further, Kim Il Sung explained that he shared my views. But in their conditions they had to take into account many factors. We have to demonstrate independence from the point of view of the South as well. Otherwise, we will give reason to the South Koreans to attack us, to carry out speculative actions against our country.

In the course of my conversations with Kim Il Sung, he made the following statement twice: Please tell comrade Brezhnev that I am not a revisionist; that I have not detached myself from the Soviet Union; that I will never be an opportunist and traitor. Ever since I was 16 years old – now more than 45 years later– I have been in the revolutionary movement. I have about 5 more years of active work left. I will not disgrace myself; I will not discredit my revolutionary activity. He told me about his life and revolutionary activity at length and how he had faced death many times. The Soviet Union has helped us in the past; it is helping us now as well. And I will not become an opportunist, an anti-Soviet and a traitor.

When we left Pyongyang, on our way from the residence to the airport, he asked me once again to convey his personal greetings to comrade Brezhnev and to state, on his behalf, that he was not going along with the Chinese, that he thinks highly of the Soviet Union, and that he will remain loyal to the Soviet Union.

5. On the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and the economic cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

After the tour of the country and the visit to several factories and plants, I pointed out the great successes of North Korea. Once again I convinced myself of the great successes achieved by the Korean comrades, of the hard work of the Korean people. I pointed out that we, the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, have great respect for Korea, that for us, Korea is a brotherly, socialist country.

I pointed out that we, in Bulgaria, also have achieved success in the development of the economy. However, taking into consideration the times in which we live, the vigorous development of the scientific and technical revolution, and the circumstance, our socialist countries, especially smaller countries like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Bulgaria cannot develop all areas of industry. Even the Soviet Union cannot afford to do this. Under these conditions we need to go resolutely towards economic integration and introduction of state-of-the art technologies in manufacture. Each of our countries need to specialize in areas for which it has the most favorable natural conditions and labor resources. I gave him the example with Bulgaria and Cuba, where with our help and that of the COMECON countries, major metallurgical capacities will be built for the production of nickel of which Cuba has in abundance.

Such economic integration with our countries, and especially with the Soviet Union, would allow Korea to develop its production capacities and become the first, or the second, country (after Japan) in the development of its economy, and the first country in improving the standard of living of its people in Asia. I pointed out that they have a lot of natural resources, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, coal, etc., water encompassing the coast of your peninsula, and so on. Economic integration would also create most favorable conditions, besides ship building, to develop some other areas of machine building as well. That would have great economic significance for the future of Korea.

In relation to that, Kim Il Sung stated that he understood the issue. He spoke several times in detail about what they had built with the help of the Soviet Union and some socialist countries. He said that they did not want to engage with Japan, who reached out to them with proposals all the time for the exploitation of Korea’s natural resources.

But he did not give a specific answer to my proposal that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to engage more closely with COMECON. He pointed out that they had an observer at COMECON, and turned to a member of their delegation, an alternate member of the Politburo and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Jo Chae Woo [?], and said that they needed to discuss the issue further for additional steps for joint activities with COMECON. He told me that they were thinking about the issue.

In relation to this, he pointed out that the economic integration, the specialization between the socialist countries gave an opportunity to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in turn, to specialize and cooperate with our socialist countries on a bilateral basis.

When I discussed these issues, I took the opportunity to inform Kim Il Sung about the basic areas of enhancing socialist economic integration and improving the work of COMECON in the light of our last meeting in Crimea.

6. On the unification of Korea and the confederation between North and South Korea

When comrade Kim Il Sung spoke about the unification of Korea, I asked him if he could elaborate more specifically on what a confederation would look like, if it was formed in the near future. Because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a socialist country, and South Korea, even though it does not have major monopolistic corporations, is a capitalist country. Apparently, the prototype of a unified Korea in the future would not be South Korea, but the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. What would a confederation look like between a capitalist and a socialist country?

In connection with this, Kim Il Sung said the following: The issue is whether the two systems – the socialist and the capitalist system – can exist in one country. There is a contradiction – on the one side we have socialism and on the other – capitalism. The issue is, “what must we do so that South Korea does not become a colony of Japan and a permanent base of American imperialism?” The goal is to pull South Korea away from this danger.

- Our first task is to pull South Korea away from Japan’s grasp and eliminate America’s military bases along the way towards the creation of a confederation.

- We cannot agree to give up socialism. Along with raising the issue of establishing a confederation, we are consciously changing the name of our constitution. We made it socialist to strengthen the achievements of socialism in our country.

- The confederation, for the creation of which we will insist, will be the retention of both forms – of their independence in domestic policy and joint activity in the area of foreign policy.

- I can point out the following example: the name and the actions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a socialist country will remain the same; South Korea will also keep its name as the Republic of Korea, and above both governments there will be a joint body which will act on behalf of the confederation only in the area of foreign policy. This, however, will not cover domestic policy – in this regard, both countries will act independently. I think that this is the only right approach.

- If they listen to us and a confederation is established, South Korea will be done with. South Korea will have to reduce its army, we will reduce ours too. But this will bring about the elimination of the reactionary regime in South Korea, because without an army the people, themselves, will rise. That is why, in reality, the South Koreans do not accept our proposals at all.

- The goals of this slogan can be achieved because the patriots of South Korea, the democratic forces there, the people who want this unification, will understand that the traitors are, indeed, the ruling establishment in South Korea, and the patriots are the communists in North Korea.

- I believe we will not fail, we will not lose. Our cooperative farmers will not allow the landowners to come back to power. Many peasants from South Korea, when they see how our cooperative farmers live, will want to establish such cooperative farms there too.

The political goals we are after with the confederation are: not allowing Japanese imperialism in South Korea, elimination of the US military bases in South Korea, and increasing our influence among the people of South Korea. Of course, if we are weak, propagating up such a slogan would be dangerous for us. In reality, the achievement of this political slogan would be a difficult task, because the American enemy is not stupid, the Japanese are not stupid either.

Our idea is a political struggle, aimed at proving to the population of South Korea who is a traitor and who is a patriot.

If a more democratic power is established in South Korea, then we would not bring up the slogan for this confederation. We will simply call it the revolution.

7. On the struggle with the faction group in the Korean Workers’ Party

One of the issues that Kim Il Sung spoke about dealt with, as he put it, the struggle against the faction group in their party. This is related to the period after the Patriotic War of the Korean people.

He explained this factionary activity of some party leaders with the fact that they had split over the issue how to use the assistance provided by the socialist countries and mainly by the Soviet Union, amounting to a total of 500 million current rubles – whether to use it for importing commodities for general consumption for the then-starving Korean people, or for creating production capacities. The factionalists were of the opinion to import consumer goods, and Kim Il Sung and the others – to use it for building production capacities, industrial plants. He spoke in detail about the activity of factionalists during that period. He pointed out that after they were expelled from the Central Committee and from the party, they thought that they would defect to South Korea. They took measures to prevent that, but instead they defected to China and are there till this day. This deteriorated their relations with China at the time, and because of it they did not send a delegation to the 8th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

He said that after that, Khrushchev and comrade Brezhnev stated that Kim Il Sung’s position for industrialization of the country was correct.

These are the key aspects of our conversations with Kim Il Sung. From the beginning of our face-to-face conversations he informed me that he was talking to me openly, as he had never spoken to with anyone else before.

At his insistence we extended our visit by one day. Apparently, he wanted to have an opportunity to have a lengthy conversation. From the first day until the very end – while we were in the country, in the factories, the young pioneers’ palace, and elsewhere – he was with us all the time.

So far as the Bulgarian-Korean relations are concerned, I believe that after our visit, there will be better opportunities to develop these relations further. The Korean Ambassador in Sofia told some comrades that Kim Il Sung had called him before our visit and told him that they needed to develop the economic and other relations with Bulgaria on a wider front.

Kim Il Sung told me that it would be reasonable, after establishing a joint economic committee for cooperation to establish a committee for the exchange of experience, that they would like to study in detail our experience and apply it in Korea.

The public events of our delegation, our meetings with the workers, the visits to the factories, companies, etc., were widely covered in their press and radio broadcasts. My speeches at the mass meetings in Hamheung and Pyongyang, the toasts at both receptions were published in full text with no omissions. The mass meetings in Hamheung and Pyongyang were broadcast on Korean television and radio.

Kim Il Sung made an interesting toast at our reception immediately before we left. He expressed his high appreciation of the visit of our delegation of party and government officials. According to him, the visit of our delegation of party and government officials of the Republic of Bulgaria to Korea was a historic event that opened a new stage in the relations of friendship and cooperation between the parties, governments, and people of both countries, Korea and Bulgaria, based on the principles of Marxist-Leninism and proletarian internationalism.

I believe that the visit of our delegation of party and government officials in Korea was a useful one.

30 October 1973

Ulan Bator

T. Zhivkov

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