[OUTLOOK]Sunshine and threats are neededIn an editorial titled "Calming Korea," the Financial Times said on Feb. 6, "When a deranged man seizes a hostage and demands a ransom, standard police practice is to establish contact, calm the situation and try to coax the hostage-taker into reason. Such has been the rationale behind the 'sunshine' policy pursued - albeit with mixed success - by Kim Dae-jung, South Korea's president."
Although comparing North Korea to a hostage-taker, the editorial warned the United States not to heighten tension in the peninsula by citing North Korea as part of an "axis of evil."
But if the hostage-taker has nuclear weapons and anthrax, could the United States stabilize the situation by persuasion and rationality?
According to a U.S. report on North Korea's weaponry, Pyeongyang is involved in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent. The Pentagon cited the Korean Peninsula as a region where U.S. forces could soon be involved in a war. The report said North Korea's long-range artillery near the DMZ could be loaded with chemical weapons. The report was prepared last year.
The weak point of the sunshine policy is that it has no countermeasures to North Korea's war threats. The weak point of the U.S. government's hard-line policy is that it could trigger bloodshed.
So a two-track sunshine policy was devised here. The policy's basis is a dual focus, on both security and reconciliation. President Kim Dae-jung continues to insist that his policies have lessened tensions on the peninsula, but he adds that military threats to the South will be countered. So we saw cruise ships going to Mount Geumgang travel north along the east coast while the Korean Navy fired at intruders along the west coast.
But that second track of Mr. Kim's policy seems to have disappeared. It stands to reason that if the United States provides information about a North Korean military threat, Seoul and Washington should share their information, analyze it and come up with measures to counter the threat. But such steps seem not to have been taken. Right after U.S. President George W. Bush's assertion that North Korea is part of an "axis of evil," Seoul showed its animosity and displeasure toward Washington by firing the minister of foreign affairs and trade. President Kim has also elevated the level of anxiety in the country by saying, "We must not expose the 70 million people on the peninsula to the threat of war." The next day he sent a letter to Washington saying that he would cooperate in trying to solve the problem of North Korean weapons of mass destruction. No one in the government has informed the people whether the U.S. government's warning of a military threat by North Korea is true, and the newly appointed Foreign Ministry team is simply repeating that cooperation between the U.S. government and the Korean government is in fine shape. Several presidential candidates assert that the sunshine policy should be firmly pursued, and other legislators sent a protest letter to the U.S. Embassy. Civic activists demonstrated against President Bush's visit to Seoul next Tuesday.
It was predicted even before President Bush took office that instead of resolving the problems on the peninsula by appeasing the hostage-taker, the new U.S. administration's policy on North Korea would change to one of threats backed by advanced weaponry. Such a tendency has indeed become stronger after the Sept. 11 attacks, and then came the new reports of the development of weapons of mass destruction in the North.
Regardless of the changes in U.S. government policy on North Korea, the sunshine policy will continue to be based on security and reconciliation. The sunshine policy does not imply that Seoul should not listen to U.S. warnings to the North to change its ways. Seoul and Washington should discuss carefully their complementary roles in handling North Korea. If the information from the U.S. government was not correct, the Korean government should have pointed out the errors.
Without using the diplomatic tools at its disposal, the Korean government is simply stirring up popular opinion into opposition to what it portrays as U.S. attempts to stir up a war in Korea. This is not the right way to handle the situation. The reason why the Korean people feel unnecessarily anxious is because of that kind of behavior by the government. The president and the Foreign Ministry should keep in mind that we should leave the military pressure to the United States and our government should continue with the sunshine policy. The coming summit between the United States and South Korea must reconfirm such a policy; that would be the shortest way to resolve the conflict between Seoul and Washington.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Editorials
Arrogance on display
Surreal real estate policies
Going against the Constitution
Don’t bend the rules
Praising themselves to the sky