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[FORUM]Take off sunshine-colored glasses

Jan 13,2003
Public reaction is always mixed concerning the outcome of a presidential election, and the reaction is even more mixed than usual after the election last month. Conflict between Roh Moo-hyun supporters and those who opposed him is deepening because controversy and uncertainty over national security are growing.

The situation concerning North Korea's nuclear program is becoming more serious, but Koreans do not seem to mind. They see the issue as one that does not affect them. They do not seem to understand that nuclear weapons could destroy the world, and could easily bring about the collapse of both Koreas.

But South Koreans do not care about the North Korean nuclear program because they think it is targeted against the United States, not against them. What is worse, South Koreans have become used to the way North Korea reacts to restrictions that third countries try to impose on it. This is nothing more than a national insensitivity to our own national security.

President Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy has had the result of demonstrating that North Korea has no intention of opening its society to the international community. The only effect is that our own security has been weakened; the sun has been shining only on the southern half of the peninsula.

Why did the sunshine policy lead to these unintended consequences? In large part it is because the Kim Dae-jung administration misunderstood the nature of the North Korean regime. President Kim has been supporting the North with South Koreans' tax money out of sympathy for the food problems in the North, where many people are in danger of death from starvation. But North Korean leaders used much of the money to strengthen their military capabilities. That is clearly a breach of the implicit contract of the sunshine policy, and the South should stand up and complain. That would help build a healthier relationship between the North and the South.

But the Kim Dae-jung administration overlooked the diversions. The government pretended to be unaware of South Koreans' rage over the North Korean hypocrisy. They were angry because they truly felt sorry for their brothers and sisters in the North, but the anger was misunderstood as the remnants of a Cold War mentality.

South Koreans' confidence in their national security, therefore, seems very shaky.

And now some Koreans want the U.S Army to go back home because of independence and nationalism. Some Americans are more than happy to comply; they are not happy about the recent anti-U.S sentiment here because they think they have protected the peninsula for the last 50 years.

But a U.S. withdrawal would mean a huge increase, perhaps $5 billion to $10 billion per year, in our budget. Civil servants would see pay cuts, and Koreans would have to serve longer in the military.

Korea would have to deal with a Japanese rearmament if the U.S. Army withdraws. Both Korea and the United States have been handling Japan's military support. Emotional anti-Americanism is not enough to resolve this issue.

Korea cannot deal independently with the nuclear issues when most people do not care about national security. Korea may not be able to discuss the nation's future, independence and peace even though its military relies on U.S. military strength. Korea is not ready for the absence of U.S forces. Independent diplomacy cannot be prepared overnight.

President-elect Roh Moo-hyun once said that he has plans to make up for the deficiencies of the Kim administration's policies. Mr. Roh, instead, should keep in mind that he has to learn something from the side effects of the sunshine policy to realize his campaign pledge of "a society without foul play or privileges."

First of all, unconditional sympathy or understanding should not be allowed in dealing with North Korea. That would only delay the promotion of good policy and lead to national conflict. The North's regime will be tempted to turn support and affection from the South to its own advantage.

In order to make a peaceful relationship between the two Koreas, it is necessary to apply a "no foul play and no privileges" principle in negotiating with North Korea. Then South Korea truly could be the leader in all the diplomatic maneuvering concerning the North Korean problem.


by Park Bo-gyun

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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