SOUTH KOREA ought not to be too quick in dismissing the appeal by the House of Representatives for the testimony of former ambassador Kim Dong Jo, who is accused of bribing various congressmen. The appeal, made in a resolution that carried 311 to 46, was constructed with an eye to reducing both the embarrassment and the political risk to Seoul inherent in a blunter approach. Ambassador Kim would not have to come to this country - that spares him not only a certain humiliation but the threat of a perjury charge. He would not have to appear in the same room, face to face, with the House ethics committee's special prosecutor, so long as the possibility of follow-up questioning was not lost. He would have prior assurances that he would not be questioned about anything other than possible misconduct by Americans. And he would not have to testify under oath - if he could provide the committee with "comparable means of assuring reliablity."

Not only did the House go far to prevent Ambassador Kim from losing face. It also proceeded carefully in informing South Korea of what the penalty for non-cooperation might be. The resolution seeking the testimony is not binding. It refers to a possible cutoff of non-military aid but it does so, respectfully, in the context of suggesting that non-cooperation in a matter of this import is simply inconsistent with the overall relationship that should bind allies. It bows to the American interest in keeping that relationship firm. There is no delight in the House in making what is acknowledged to be a very difficult demand. But there is a determination not to be thwarted in an inquiry that goes to the heart of the integrity of the House.

Whatever South Korean officials did on the Hill back in the early 1970s, they were surely motivated only by a desire to serve their country. It is not hard to imagine that the Koreans, apprehensive about what American policy might be after Vietnam, thought it might be prudent to take out a little insurance on Capitol Hill. They could well have thought that they would not be the first to act in this way. The same sense of service to country, we suggest, ought to animate the Korean government now. The tactical requirements are different, but the strategic aim - to ensure a continuing, trusting relationship with the United States - remains the same. We think Seoul would be putting that whole relationship at unnecessary risk by turning the House down. That cannot be to its true advantage.