In a victory over Asian archrival Japan, South Korea's successful bid to host the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul appears to have moved the country's leadership a step closer to goals of enhancing its image internationally and consolidating political power at home.
In balloting for the event held in Baden-Baden, West Germany Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee voted 52 to 27 to give the nod to the South Korean capital over previously top-seeded Nagoya, Japan's fourth largest city.
The victory is highly symbolic because, if all goes smoothly, South Korea will become the first developing country to sponsor the Olympics and only the second Asian nation to do so following Japan's lead with the Tokyo summer games in 1964.
It also reflected a deft stroke of gamesmanship by South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan. Winning the Olympic laurels, diplomatic analysts here said, marks an important stage in his efforts to restore political stability to South Korea and revive international confidence in its economy after the chaos touched off by the assassination of president Park Chung Hee in October 1979.
News of the unexpected reversal, which was beamed into both countries via television satellite relay shortly before midnight Wednesday, shocked the Japanese and sparked a mood of national jubilation among the South Koreans.
It forced the cancellation of a huge celebration planned at Nagoya's city hall and one gloomy city official said, "prior to the voting there was nothing to indicate we would lose." He admitted, however, that South Korean delegates in Baden-Baden were "tougher and more effective" in 11th-hour talks.
In Seoul, Chung Soo Chang, president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "the Olympic games will give us the momentum to stage another economic takeoff and to gain international recognition of Korea's diplomatic and political position."
Reflecting these hopes, the Seoul government plans to spend $2.33 billion on the event, including $330 million on an Olympic village it is now building in Jam-Sil, a new presidential area on the south bank of the Han river.
The 135-acre site will house a three-story, 100,000-seat oudoor stadium and an indoor complex of gymnasiums and swimming pools. The bulk of the funds, however, will go to building the four new subway lines and 43 hotels officials say will be needed to accommodate the 200,000 visitors they expect come to this congested city of 8.3 million for the games.
In Japan, the 1964 Olympics is generally regarded as the capstone to the country's efforts to rebuild its war-shattered economy and establish itself as a major industrial power.
Government officials and industrialists in South Korea, a nation of 38 million covering an area the size of Virginia, view the Seoul games as a similar chance to gain international standing.
"The Olympics represent a political ritual which symbolizes economic achievement," said Toru Yano, an Asian affairs specialist at Kyoto University. "The South Koreans have been trying to catch up to Japan ever since the 1960s and now they believe they have reached thier goal."
Outdistancing the Japanese in the 1988 Olympics race was particularly sweet for the South Koreans because they tend to view Japan, which ruled their country as a colony until the end of World War II, as the number one rival to their rapidly industrializing, $58-billion economy.
"In their eyes," said one Japanese observer, "beating the Japneses at anything automatically means raising their international prestige." In Nagoya, the Olympic bid was only a regional effort by local boosters, he said, "but in Korea, it was taken up as a national campaign."
Echoing such sentiments, Yoon Song-Sup, who runs a duty-free shop in Seoul and is typical of the rising middle class, said, "I'm sure the Olympics will uplift our economy and induce more foreign tourists."
It is still too early to predict whether the economic boom officials in Seoul have linked to the games will, in fact, materialize. But the upsurge in national pride created among the South Koreans by the IOC's decision could, Korea-watchers in Tokyo said, represent more immediate political gains for the country's new rulers.
After coming to power in September 1980, President Chun's government, having quickly trounced its political opposition, turned its attention to South Korea's sagging business activity. The economy, to which political fortunes in the country are closely tied, has now begun to reverse last year's steep declines.
But what the government in Seoul needed, diplomatic analysts in Tokyo said, was a dramatic gesture to bolster its legitmacy both domestically and against North Korea's tirades against what it brands as the "puppet regime" in Seoul.
In gaining IOC approval, Seoul outmaneuvered Pyongyang in their bitter two-way rivalry for international recognition, and North Korea's propaganda mill has so far been uncharacteristically silent.
"The Olympics," said Fuji Kamiya, professor of international relations at Japan's Keio University, could, at least in the short-run, "prove a crucial home run" for the South Korean government.