When the Sunshine Policy was first championed by the Kim Dae-jung administration, it was presented as the only alternative to war, and those who questioned the wisdom or the efficacy of the policy were often accused of being warmongers.
Never mind the fact that every single military provocation that occurred since the Korean War had been initiated by North Korea, or the fact that the alternative to appeasement is not outright war.
Even the name itself, which was derived from an Aesop Fable – The North Wind and the Sun – was meant to highlight the superiority of persuasion, compassion, and kindness. It was assumed that brotherly love and a mutually beneficial relationship would convince the North Koreans to disarm and extend their hand toward the rest of the world in peace.
Even now there are people who argue for a return to the Sunshine Policy. They claim that the ten years under which the Sunshine Policy had been in effect was the most peaceful time in modern Korean history.
Even the most hardened cynics had to admit that the summit between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il in 2000 was a moment that none had dared to dream possible.
After all, the era had been marked with presidential summits in Pyongyang, North and South Korean sports teams marching under a single non-existent flag during international sports competitions, and both Koreas demonizing the United States and Japan as “the biggest security threat in Asia.”
EXAMINING THE LEGACY
During the heady days of the Sunshine Policy, it was easy to get swept up in waves of optimism. Even the most hardened cynics had to admit that the summit between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il in 2000 was a moment that none had dared to dream possible. But hindsight is 20/20, and it is now clear that the South Korean government had either been duped by Pyongyang or had been Pyongyang’s accomplice during the whole failed experiment.
The problem with the word “peace” is that people often ascribe their many subjective feelings to that word. Peace is brotherhood and love, peace is caring for one another, peace is lifting each other up, peace is being kind to one another. All of those mushy definitions of peace are pure drivel whose sole purpose is to fuel political slacktivism.
The only real definition of peace is “an absence of hostilities and war.” One doesn’t need to love one’s enemies or care about his wounded pride or welfare for peace to exist; a mutual decision to down arms is all that suffices. And in that regard, the Sunshine Policy failed miserably.
…hindsight is 20/20 and it is now clear that the South Korean government had either been duped by Pyongyang or been Pyongyang’s accomplice during the whole failed experiment.
When the Sunshine Policy was first established, the South Korean government took great pains to emphasize that its attempts to coax North Korea out of its shell would not come at the expense of deterrence – that persuasion and deterrence would occur simultaneously. In practice, however, persuasion was always given more emphasis than deterrence.
THE MASK SLIPS
At first, it was the small things. For instance, the South Korean government had famously canceled a military parade and battle re-enactments that had been meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Korean War in June 2000. It would have upset the North Koreans had they gone on as planned. But things didn’t end there.
After the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong in 2002, a naval skirmish that North Korea initiated that resulted in the deaths of six South Korean sailors and in the wounding of nineteen more, President Kim Dae-jung decided to go on a scheduled visit to attend the Korea-Japan Joint World Cup final in Yokohama – instead of attending the funeral and grieving with the rest of the country. After all, it was an election year and the South Korean government did not want to upset their Sunshine Policy or the northern gangsters. Neither Kim Dae-jung nor Roh Moo-hyun ever attended any of these sailors’ funeral or memorial services.
All of those mushy definitions of peace are pure drivel whose sole purpose is to fuel political slacktivism.
And during those ten years South Korea remained eerily quiet whenever the subject of North Korea’s human rights violations came up. Should the Korean Peninsula ever be reunited to form a single country again, South Korean progressives are going to have to answer a chilling question from the former North Korean masses – “Where were you while we were dying?”
APPEASEMENT BY ANY OTHER NAME
Many North Korean officials undoubtedly think of the Sunshine years as the good old days. Unlike now, the North Koreans didn’t need to growl or snarl at Seoul. Kim Jong Il was more than happy to offer smiles and quips about minjokkiri. That is because the knife that he held at South Korea’s throat was draped in velvet and South Korea’s progressives were only too happy to pretend that there was no knife.
Furthermore, during those ten years, South Korea remained eerily quiet whenever the subject of North Korea’s human rights violations arose.
Of course, things did not end there. During those ten years, South Korea spent hundreds of millions of dollars investing in North Korea – the biggest of those investments having been the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The former was successful until 2008, when a North Korean soldier murdered a South Korean tourist after she strayed out of the tourist area to gaze at the sunrise over the east coast. Then the North Koreans took it over in 2011. And as for the latter, even before it had been finally shut down earlier this year, it had often been used as a bargaining chip by the North Koreans.
And to add serious injury to serious insult, throughout all that time, the North Koreans were secretly building up their nuclear arsenal. Many progressives blame the United States for this. Their go-to argument is that had then-President George W. Bush not included North Korea in his now infamous Axis of Evil speech, the North Koreans might not have chosen to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
This is pure fantasy. North Korea’s dreams of becoming a nuclear power started with Kim Il Sung and no amount of external pressure or cajoling aside from all out war was ever going to derail that dream. Using their opaqueness to their advantage while doing their best to put a wedge in the U.S.-ROK alliance, the North bluffed the allies into believing that talking with Pyongyang could prevent such an outcome. Now that North Korea is a nuclear state in all but name, they no longer feel the need to keep up ruses as they once did.
And to add serious injury to serious insult, throughout all that time, the North Koreans were secretly building up their nuclear arsenal.
That was the extent of “peace” that the Sunshine Policy was able to accomplish. Did South Korea get anything beneficial in return for acquiescing to mass murderers? The short answer is no.
Right from the moment of the Sunshine Policy’s inception, when the South Korean government requested that the North create a reunion center for divided families in exchange for fertilizer assistance, the North Koreans balked because they would not engage in such “horse trading.”
From the very beginning, the terms had been set by the North Koreans: “we take, you give.” And being the idiots that they are, South Korean progressives happily obliged as they contorted and twisted to come up with the perverted notion of “flexible reciprocity based on Confucian values.”
Their argument was that South Korea, being “the stronger elder brother,” would be patient and allow North Korea to reciprocate South Korean measures in some undetermined way at an undetermined future. But this didn’t even apply to humanitarian assistance.
From the very beginning, the terms had been set by the North Koreans: “we take, you give.”
That was supplied with no strings attached whatsoever. In other words, for South Korea, the Sunshine Policy meant giving something (a lot of something, actually) for nothing. Worse than nothing, in fact.
Whether people care to admit it or not, the Sunshine Policy has undermined South Korea’s security, enriched and enabled its main enemy, and it is altogether possible that South Korea has still not yet faced its full consequences. It is plausible that the Sunshine Policy’s final effect could still come in the form of a North Korean peace: a unified peninsula ruled by Pyongyang.
This is the legacy that is being championed by South Korean progressives like Park Won-soon, Moon Jae-in, Ahn Cheol-soo, and Choo Mi-ae – a return to a time when South Korea, stripped off its pride and will for self-determination, become nothing more than servile peasants who live only to ensure Kim Jong Un’s longevity and to fulfill his twisted fancies.
Should the Sunshine Policy be resurrected as these appeasers intend, then it might not be unwise to bet against South Korea’s future.
Featured image credit: Kim Han-jung
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Featured Image: Demilitarized Zone, North Korea by yeowatzup on 2008-09-26 10:48:52