[INSIGHT]No sunshine on a one-way streetAs we always seem to do, we are wasting our time, in this case, we are squabbling over the Yellow Sea skirmish without reaching a conclusion over what to do. Should we act toward the North Koreans as if nothing happened? The naval clash not only cost us a navy vessel and 20 men wounded or dead, but it also has brought about internal strife within our society.
Most prominently, it has aggravated the battle among the political parties and intensified the political debate over the South's sunshine policy. We seem to be divided over every aspect of the battle: Was North Korea's action impulsive or intentional? Should we halt the Mount Geumgang project or not? Did our fishermen cross the Northern Limit Line? Should we feel relief (that the skirmish ended as it did), fear (that it is not over yet) or anger (over the lame excuses being made for our defeat).
The incident has worsened South Korea's relations with the United States. Relations soured after Seoul urged the United States to send its special envoy to Pyeongyang despite what has happened, and Washington had refused.
While all this might provide secret mirth to North Korea, we should be asking ourselves, how could this have happened? Why are we divided at a time when we should be united?
The biggest responsibility lies with the government. The government's initial attitude not only failed to unite the people, it divided public opinion. Even after the military announced that the incident had been an intentional provocation by the North Koreans, the government stuck to speculation that it could have been an accident. Even while demanding that North Korea apologize and punish those responsible for the clash, the government has decided to keep the sunshine policy intact.
Despite strong words, the president did not even make a personal visit to pay condolences to the sailors' families and no high-ranking government officials attended their funeral. Is there any wonder public opinion is so divided when the government has shown such an ambiguous attitude?
The Yellow Sea clash has brought us five negatives. We have lost men and a ship, internal conflict has intensified, a fissure has developed in our relations with the United States, we have exposed our military weaknesses to North Korea and confidence in the government has crashed.
The fundamental reason for these results is the sunshine policy. No one would object to the original purpose of this policy, which calls for us to embrace and support the North Koreans for the building of peace and trust.
However, we should not forget that the sunshine policy is a policy for South Korea as well. As long as the sunshine policy is a policy of the Republic of Korea, it should serve our national interest first and be adjusted or ended when found running contrary to this interest.
The national interest of the Republic of Korea should not come second to the sunshine policy. The problem here is that the Kim Dae-jung administration seems to have a problem in accepting such a simple principle. In this administration, the sunshine policy has become an idol to which we must conform. This blind worship of this government policy has on several occasions harmed our national interest, personality and pride. In the political context that any harm done to the sunshine policy is harm done to President Kim Dae-jung, the policy has come to lack adaptability to reality, flexibility and efficiency.
Even now, the government is continuing the Mount Geumgang tours while demanding that North Korea accept responsibility for the sea battle. The only countermeasures we have against North Korea besides military retaliation are economic and diplomatic reprisals. How are we to get an apology and see the punishment of those responsible for the clash when we are giving up the only tools with which we can force our demands? North Korea probably believes that we will neither retaliate nor withhold the 300,000 metric tons of rice aid for long. Can we have a guarantee that there will be no reoccurrence of the provocation if North Korea is not made to pay for the attacks?
We cannot go back to the way things were as if the Yellow Sea clash never happened.
We demand that North Korea not let this happen again, but we should be making a stricter demand of ourselves. We should never let our men and ships be attacked mercilessly, sacrificing our sailors. We must make sure that North Korea understands that our interest is their interest and that there will not be a sunshine policy of one-sided suffering.
One round with the loss of five men is enough.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok