His aides have made much of the fact that he is the first non-military president in South Korea for three decades, and thus ready for change. But few Koreans were prepared for reforms announced by the President in the last two weeks, which have hit at the heart of the old collusive system between military leaders, politicians and businessmen. Even barricades on the roads around the presidential Blue House, which for years stopped traffic, have come down.
First Mr Kim appointed a cabinet full of new faces, with few ties to the traditional factions in the ruling Democratic Liberal Party. Then he announced he would introduce a 'real-name' financial system in which people could no longer hide funds under false names. About 10 per cent of shares on the stock market and 5 per cent of bank accounts are thought to be registered under false names, facilitating bribery and corrupt dealings between businessmen and politicians. The stock market has plunged since it became clear Mr Kim was serious about the reform.
Turning to the still-powerful military, Mr Kim summarily dismissed the army's chief of staff and the head of military intelligence, both influential generals who had strong ties to previous authoritarian governments. They were replaced by officers regarded as technocrats, with no political affiliations. 'It has all been a welcome surprise,' said a diplomat in Seoul. 'People never thought he had it in him - basically he is trying to change the way the country has operated since it was set up.'
But the President's reforms have not gone down well in all quarters, and newspaper exposes on the backgrounds of a number of Mr Kim's appointees forced the President to dismiss the three ministers, the Mayor of Seoul and a top adviser. The information the papers are publishing is so accurate that it is suspected that the sources are people with access to military intelligence files - part of the establishment Mr Kim is trying to take on.
The first casualty was Chun Byung Min, who was destined to be a top aide in the Blue House until a paper disclosed that his father-in-law had assassinated a nationalist leader just after the Second World War. Then followed the three ministers and the Mayor of Seoul, who were replaced when papers disclosed they had been involved in corrupt property deals, accepted bribes and, in one case, spirited a daughter into university, avoiding the extremely arduous entrance-exam requirements.
While Mr Kim has been busy taking on the more conservative elements of the old politico-military system, he has had little time to concentrate on North Korea, which has recently been convulsed by xenophobia and war fever.
Infuriated by the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency for access to two suspect nuclear installations, and further incensed by war-games by South Korean and United States military forces, the secretive Communist country has declared that it is in a 'semi-war state'.
Earlier this week 100,000 North Koreans rallied in Pyongyang against the nation's foreign enemies, and 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il was quoted as saying that 'a touch- and-go grave situation has been created in which a war may break out at any minute'.
But with real battles being fought on the political level in Seoul, no one seemed to be listening to the rhetoric coming from the North.Reuse content