"THE COMPANY of political figures," says South Korea's Tongsun Park, "happens to be my hobby." Well, that's one way of putting it. And when you consider what else Mr. Park had to say in the course of a singularly unproductive press conference in Seoul the other day, that may also be the closest he came to telling the truth about his life in Washington as a wheeler-dealer businessman. A "hobby," according to Webster's International, is a "subject or plan wo which one is constantly reverting in discourse, thought or effort," and nobody questions the constancy of Mr. Park's efforts in Washington to "revert" to the company of political figures - most of them members of Congress.
What is in question - as a publicly acknowledged, generally accepted fact - is whether he was indulging this hobby as a free-spending, vote-buying agent of the South Korean government. There is compelling evidence that this is precisely what he was doing while in the capital. A number of members of Congress have openly admitted receiving cash gifts from Mr. Park. A former high official of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency has testified that he helped funnel formidable sums of money to Mr. Park through the South Korean embassy. To all of which Mr. Park replied at his press conference: "Absurd . . . whatever I have done . . . has been done for my personal account as a private businessman." Will he, then, return to Washington and explain things to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the so-called ethics committee investigating the charges of Korean influence-buying in Congress? Not until he is given assurance that the press and the Justice Department will stop saying nasty things about him, Mr. Park replied. In other words, no.
So where does this leave the committee and its special counsel, Leon Jaworski? Apparently it leaves Mr. Jaworski determined to get Mr. Park's testimony, but not dependent upon it ("I don't think his testimony will make cases or be fatal to cases."), and somehow "confident" that he will get it in the end. The answer, he seemed to be suggesting last week, lies with the South Korean government - and with the amount of stonewalling, you might say, that the American public and the Congress are prepared to tolerate on the part of a professed ally and a beneficiary of rather substantial American military aid and economic exchange. Rather pointdly, the special counsel called upon the Seoul government to "extend unlimited cooperation to this committee and its investigators."
The South Korean government, for its part, takes a strict look-no-hands attitude toward the activities of Mr. Park, denying any connection to him and declining to respond to this country's requests for help in arranging his return to Washington. We find this nonconnection exceedingly hard to believe. And in any case, we think the government in Seoul has an obligation, given the nature of tis relations with this country over the years, to honor Mr. Jaworski's request for help. If Mr. Park is as innocent as he and his government profess, no harm can come to him from cooperating with the House ethics committee. And if he is as responsive to South Korean government control as the record clearly indicates he is, then the government has a responsibility to make his testimony available. There are, we understand, other ways that the government in Seoul could help - for example, by authorizing access by the investigators to that part of the records of the government's banking transactions in Washington that bears on financial transactions involving Tongsun Park.
What we are talking about here is nothing unfamiliar to Mr. Jaworski; it is the participation of the South Korean government in a coverup - an obstruction of justice. And while it can be argued that the South Koreans have no legal obligation to further a legislative investigation in the United States, we doubt that responsible members of Congress and the great majority of Americans are prepared to leave it at that. On the contrary, we suspect that their view of American responsibilities and obligations as an ally of South Korea will inevitably be conditioned in some measure by South Korea's sense of its own obligations to assist the course of justice in the United States.