[FORUM] A policy mangled beyond repair?

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[FORUM] A policy mangled beyond repair?

The key cause of the president's problems is the failure to properly deal with the battle between South Korean and North Korean warships.

President Kim Dae-jung's isolation is growing more serious. Even Roh Moo-hyun, the presidential candidate of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, has suggested that President Kim's sunshine policy toward North Korea should be discontinued. Rhee In-je, a ruling party legislator, called Mr. Kim "a failed president," citing the sunshine policy as an example. The sunshine policy is the proud cornerstone of Kim's leadership. Despite criticism from the media, Mr. Kim has adhered to it like sacred ground, but now even his supporters oppose it.

When Mr. Roh started out like a gust of wind in the primary, Mr. Rhee alleged that President Kim was behind Mr. Roh. Mr. Rhee even alleged an important secret agreement, saying Mr. Roh promised Mr. Kim the privilege of playing a role in North Korea policy after he leaves office. Thus, the defection by Mr. Roh, who was expected to carry on the sunshine policy if elected, must have been a shock to Mr. Kim.

President Kim brought all this on himself. The key cause of his problems is the failure to properly deal with the June 29 battle between South Korean and North Korean warships. The problem lies in the administration's inability to clarify its position. It neither firmly reproached the North for its offense nor clearly interpreted the situation, worried about how the North would react. Absurdly, some within the administration said the North Korean ships' intrusion of the Northern Limit Line was due to South Korean fishing boats that violated North Korean waters, giving rise to old pro-North Korean leftist ideology.

President Kim has missed a historical opportunity to take advantage of the unified passion expressed during the World Cup. Mr. Kim lost his grip on state affairs as the investigation into alleged corruption by his sons grabbed the headlines. Mr. Roh had no choice but to seriously consider a symbolic and dramatic separation from the President.

Mr. Kim might have lost his touch with reality, or he lost flexibility while boasting the originality of his sunshine policy. Or he might have been obsessed with the sunshine policy because he made a deal with the North and the North can use it to drag him around, as the opposition has said. The task of resolving the mystery is left with President Kim. The public supports the basics of the sunshine policy, reconciliation and cooperation, but President Kim's pledge that the policy would be pursued on the condition of unyielding national security has not held.

The unity during the World Cup stemmed from national confidence and pride in the country. Our North Korea policy should aim at giving North Koreans relief from starvation and economic failure. The government should rebuke the North for its erratic behavior toward the South. Mr. Kim's remarks that the sea battle is problematic regardless of whether Kim Jong-il, North Korea's leader, ordered the provocation or not do not correspond to the nation's expectations of his leadership in the wake of our World Cup success.

The sunshine policy should be modified. For a start, Lim Dong-won, the Blue House special adviser who helped structure the sunshine policy, needs to quit the scene. The reconciliation agreed on in a meeting between Mr. Lim and Kim Jong-il in Pyeongyang in April has not been implemented. The government should protest the North's failure to keep its promise and for causing military tension. This would mean a diminished role for Mr. Lim and retooling the sunshine policy.

President Kim does not have the courage to take the appropriate action, so he should abandon the sunshine policy, which should stand on public consensus. When the policy has the backing of the public, it can be passed on to the next administration.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyun

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