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    Korea
     Feb 16, 2005
Kim rains on 'Sunshine Policy'
By Jaewoo Choo

SEOUL - North Korea's announcement last week that it possesses nuclear weapons has dealt a devastating blow to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's government. Ever since entering the Blue House in 2003, Roh has vigorously pursued a lenient, and to an extent benign, policy toward the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, even to the detriment of his own nation's half-century-old alliance with the United States. The South Korean president has on numerous occasions emphasized that his North Korea policy remains in line with that of his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, known as the "Sunshine Policy" of openness and engagement with the North.

Will this policy shine as brightly for Roh as it as it did for Kim Dae-jung, crowning the latter with the Nobel Peace Prize? Will the continuation of the Sunshine Policy generate its intended consequences, inducing the North to emerge bereft of nuclear weapons, thus leading to the reunification of the two Koreas? Under the current circumstances, the prospects for sunshine for Roh of for the intended results do not seem to be bright at all. So what is causing Roh to pursue such a policy?

'Independent and autonomous'
In terms of strategy, rather than relying on a unilateral approach in inducing Pyongyang to change its position toward the South by pouring in economic and humanitarian aid, Roh's government claims to have adopted a pragmatic approach. Many South Korean people, however, are not too clear about what such an approach actually means. However, based on its endeavors thus far, we can make an educated guess that it means a persistent development of a friendly relationship with Pyongyang regardless of the nature of the troubles inflicted by that regime.

The consequences of Roh's pro-North Korea stance are vividly reflected in the fragility of the current US-South Korea alliance, and a rising lack of confidence and trust in Seoul by Washington. In addition, for the first time in more than a decade, Roh's government succeeded in renouncing North Korea as the "main enemy" in its recently published Defense White Paper. Furthermore, Roh and his aides are still working hard to forge an opportunity for high-level talks and/or a summit meeting with Pyongyang irrespective of what is regarded by many in the region as a "crisis" due to the North's unyielding nuclear ambitions and despite its declaration last week that it does indeed have nukes and is suspending participation in disarmament talks.

All this has been camouflaged by Roh's so-called "independent and autonomous" foreign policy. From this perspective, Roh's North Korea policy went far beyond the scope and range of what the original Sunshine Policy had intended. It shifted the fundamental orientation of the Sunshine Policy, taking sides with the North and China, while diverging from the United States.

Roh's government has struggled to remain consistent with its North-oriented policy. Such efforts have sometimes invited great controversy at home and abroad. En route to Chile to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last November, for instance, Roh delivered a controversial speech before a US audience in Los Angeles. In his speech, he explicitly stated his understanding that the North was pursuing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles for security reasons, in order to deter threats from the outside. His statement was in total congruence with Pyongyang's recent justification and rationale - security from a hostile United States - when it officially announced last Thursday that it possesses nuclear weapons. In his California speech Roh went further, expressing his opposition to any kind of sanctions against the North, implying his opposition to taking the case to the United Nations Security Council.

Whether his efforts will deflect the US from hardline measures (after official US statements about Pyongyang as an "outpost of tyranny" and the need for regime transformation) remains to be considered.

Despite Roh's recent emphasis on the importance of South Korea's relationship with the US in an attempt to mend the already fragile alliance, his words do not match his deeds. Although he reiterated the success of the six-party talks as a prerequisite of the summit meeting with Kim Jong-il, he is very much preoccupied by the goal of such a summit.

Quest for the summit
In the midst of the current "crisis", Roh's government is searching for every possible way to have Kim Jong-il accept the Russian invitation to attend the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II to be held in May in St Petersburg. The occasion is widely perceived to provide a natural opportunity for an inter-Korean summit. The prospect for this is very dim, however, because the North would not view the occasion with the same respect as either the South or Russia. The end of World War II is perceived by the North as a victory for the imperialists, in which Korea had no part. In other words, there is a lack of justification for Kim Jong-il to attend such a ceremony.

However, the efforts of Roh's government do not stop there. Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for instance, the minister of unification in his speech extended an invitation to Kim Jong-il to attend the APEC leaders' meeting to be held in November in Busan, South Korea. This month in Shenyang, China, a couple of South Korean national assemblymen in their roles as representatives of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1998 for improving implementation of the Sunshine Policy, met the Northern representative of the same organization to discuss the possibility of co-hosting a celebration in August of the 60th anniversary of Korea's liberation. Although these national assemblymen were from an opposition party, their intentions and actions are provoking quite a debate in South Korea because their party has yet to join the organization officially, and they acted as individual members. Details of the proposed August event have not been revealed but there is speculation it would include an official meeting at the highest level, including the leaders of the two Koreas.

In addition, Roh's government has indicated continued support for the current inter-Korean economic cooperation, despite the North's rejection of the six-party talks for an indefinite period. Seoul has continued to insist that the current standoff will not affect the economic issues, emphasizing the humanitarian aspect of the South's economic assistance. Furthermore, it pledged continuing operation of South Korean companies in Gaeseong Industrial Complex across the border in North Korea, as well as more visits by South Korean tourists to Mount Geumgang in the North. The government's rhetoric is widely interpreted as indicating its wish to avoid offending Pyongyang, thereby keeping alive its hope to lay the ground for the summit meeting.

For Roh to realize his wish to meet with Kim Jong-il, he needs to find some good reasons and justifications for such a summit. Otherwise, meeting with a man perceived by most of the world as a tyrant - and one who has admitted possessing nuclear weapons to boot - would only backfire and undermine Roh's already low public support, which currently stands in the low-20% range. Roh, therefore, is becoming particularly edgy, as the clock is ticking to his disadvantage - he is already in his third year of a five-year presidency. If he does not handle the situation and his allies adroitly, his wish may never be fulfilled. This is not 2000 - George W Bush is not Bill Clinton and Roh Moo-hyun is simply not Kim Dae-jung.

Jaewoo Choo, PhD, is assistant professor in the School of International Relations and Area Studies, Kyung Hee University, South Korea.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


Kim Comes Out
An ATol series on the nuke crisis

Seoul rows against the US tide
(Nov 4, '04)

S Korea's perilous historical revisionism (Aug 3, '04)

 
 

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