Thursday, November 18, 2010

The sun goes down on the Sunshine Policy

South Korea's Unification Ministry has officially pulled the plug on the so-called Sunshine Policy of active engagement begun in the late 1990s under then-President Kim Daejung and carried on, with nearly all carrot and no stick, by his successor Roh Moohyun.

From Voice of America:
The South Korean Unification Ministry's annual report calls the Sunshine Policy of peaceful engagement with North Korea a failure.

The ministry's white paper, issued Thursday, contends a decade of cooperation, cross-border exchanges and billions of dollars in aid did not change Pyongyang's behavior or improve the lives of North Korean citizens.

Lee Jong-joo, a ministry spokeswoman, says South Korea's goal is to see North Korea prosper, but Seoul must respond appropriately to any provocations from Pyongyang.
While I can understand the pendulum swinging completely the other way under the Lee Myungbak administration, I'm loath to call Sunshine a "failure." In fact, when Kim Daejung was president, it was probably wise to at least try it, because what we were doing before wasn't getting us anywhere.

Here's what I wrote about Sunshine upon KDJ's death:
When he became president, he decided that it was time to shift gears vis-à-vis North Korea. Some four decades of mutual hostility had not made North Korea less threatening, more democratic, or any friendlier, and he thought it was time to try killing with kindness. Reach out to the North, try to integrate them, get political and social change to come from economic integration. And so was born the "Sunshine Policy."

Critics of the Sunshine Policy complain that after ten years, Kim Jong-il's regime is still standing. They complain that Roh Moohyun kowtowed so much to Pyongyang that Seoul's back was broken. And while I've been a harsh critic of Roh Moohyun, it is not Kim Daejung's fault that RMH was all carrot and no stick; I don't think, had he been allowed a second term, that KDJ would have been the same toward North Korea as his successor was.
Although I think right now we should pursue what Joshua at One Free Korea calls "Plan B," I find it a bit ironic that anti-Sunshiners (one professor at Yonsei called them "Moonshiners") say that because Sunshine didn't work to change North Korea over the past ten years, we should return to a hardline policy, which failed to work for forty years. Well, they don't say that last part.

Another reason I am not inclined to say Sunshine didn't work is that the greatest benefit of that intensive engagement may not yet have occurred:
I do believe, though, that engagement is important for showing a human face of the enemy. No matter how much the North tries to demonize the South or the Americans, the food aid and now the daily presence of South Koreans in North Korea — even a hermetically sealed part — engagement erodes that demonization. It may seem laughable today, but prior to democratization in South Korea, kids in the ROK learned that the North Koreans had horns and would kill them just as soon as look at them. The North had learned as bad or worse, but that type of propaganda no longer is capable of packing the same punch. It’s a joke now, even in the North.

I don’t know if engagement will have a desired effect. I think it’s possible that if there were a sufficient shake-up in the ruling apparatus (e.g., the sudden death of the Dear Leader) that certain factions might now be more confident than before that they can work with the South and the US. And when/if the South ever does take administrative control over a collapsed North, the reduced level of demonization will make it easier.
I fully expect the DPRK to go into a tizzy about this, and possibly threaten to close down factories, stop family reunions, or do some other things that sorta underscore perfectly that Sunshine needs to fade because it has failed to stop Pyongyang from grabbing Seoul by the gingkos whenever it wants and then throwing a temper tantrum.

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