In the 1971 presidential elections, Kim challenged incumbent President Park Chung Hee as the New Democratic Party's candidate, winning 43.6 percent of the vote in a contest that had been heavily rigged for Park. Kim's strong showing shocked the Park regime. Fearing Kim's popularity, Park embarked on a campaign to silence him. Kim was ceaselessly harassed and narrowly escaped death in a government-sponsored "accident." He was in Japan for medical treatment when, on 17 October 1972, the Park government imposed martial law in South Korea. Kim immediately condemned this decision. On 8 August 1973, Park's Korea Central Intelligence Agents kidnapped Kim in Tokyo and transported him to South Korea, almost killing him. Park placed Kim under house arrest and later imprisoned him for sedition and other spurious "crimes."
Six weeks after Park's assassination on 26 October 1979, Kim was released from prison. Park's successor, Major General Chun Doo Hwan, continued the vendetta against Kim. In May 1980 Kim was arrested and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges but eventually, in a deal with President Ronald Reagan's administration, was allowed to travel to the United States. Kim voluntarily returned to South Korea in February 1985 but was briefly placed under house arrest again. Then, after the 1987 June Resistance for democratization, Kim was cleared of all charges and had his political rights restored.
Following consecutive losses in the 1987 and 1992 presidential elections, Kim finally won election in December 1997 and was installed in February 1998. He ardently supported the establishment of friendlier relations with North Korea, and as such his administration pursued the so-called sunshine policy of rapprochement with Pyongyang. Kim's historic 13–15 June 2000 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang resulted in his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2000. Kim's sunshine policy profoundly transformed South Korean perceptions of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea). On the other hand, South Korean–U.S. relations deteriorated rapidly, especially after U.S. President George W. Bush refused to support Kim's rapprochement with North Korea, going so far as to label Pyongyang part of an "axis of evil." Anti-American sentiments have since been on the rise in South Korea, potentially jeopardizing a fifty-plus-year relationship and endangering the long-standing U.S.-South Korean security alliance. Kim stepped down as president in February 2003.
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. Revised and updated ed. New York: Basic Books, 2002.