[TODAY]Moving Beyond a Sunshine SuperstarNobody would object to the statement that the "sunshine policy" is a drama starring Unification Minister Lim Dong-won and directed by President Kim Dae-jung. The three-phase unification scheme that President Kim mapped out during the cold war era was modulated into a realistic policy based on "peace first, then unification unhurriedly." The June 15 Joint Declaration became possible when Mr. Lim, who has been involved in policy toward Pyongyang since the Roh Tae-woo administration (1988 - 1993), combined his North Korean connections with President Kim's unification scheme.
President Kim seems to believe that Mr. Lim played a crucial role not only in the formulation of the policy, but in its implementation as well. When the opposition Grand National Party was preparing for the no-confidence vote against Mr. Lim and the United Liberal Democrats joined forces with the opposition, the president said, "This vote will affect the future of the nation, not only Mr. Lim's personal future."
North Korea has shelved inter-Korean ministerial talks on various pretext since it cancelled the talks scheduled in March. Then Pyongyang proposed to resume inter-governmental talks "as soon as possible" just one day before the National Assembly was to vote on a repudiation of Mr. Lim. That does not look like a coincidence. North Korea seems to think that Mr. Lim's continuation in office will be beneficial because of his friendly behind-the-scenes connections with the North.
President Kim sees the attack on Mr. Lim as an attack on the sunshine policy, and rightly so; the opposition called the sunshine policy a "give first, gain nothing" failure and attacked its architect.
The GNP's skepticism about the sunshine policy gained momentum when George W. Bush, a hard-liner toward North Korea, was sworn in as U.S. President. The ULD, which call themselves mainstream conservatives, should have opposed the engagement policy if ideology were the only criterion. But the ULD has kept silent on the policy because of its coalition with the president's party. After Kim Jong-pil, de facto leader of the ULD, began to press Mr. Lim to resign, the ULD no longer concealed its complaints against the engagement policy. The cohabitation of conservatives and progressives ended in a divorce.
The National Assembly spurned President Kim and the ruling party's efforts to protect the minister and passed the no-confidence motion. With that vote, the coalition between the MDP and the ULD collapsed and the silent consent of the ULD to the sunshine policy was over. It is hard to fathom Kim Jong-pil's true intentions when he switched sides, offered Mr. Lim up as a sacrificial lamb and ended his political coalition with the president. "JP" is fond of convoluted, Machiavellian political calculations. But we can predict that the ULD will adopt an active opposition line to the sunshine policy to replace its passive support. As the public is increasingly disenchanted with the sunshine policy, the ULD hopes to collect more conservatives' votes in next year's local and presidential elections.
The Assembly vote is obviously a big blow to President Kim and has put a damper on the sunshine policy. But it is no use crying over spilled milk. If the ruling party sticks by its position that replacing Mr. Lim will damage the nation's long-term outlook, it is putting its own neck in a noose. If there is not a single other person who can handle the sunshine policy skillfully except for Mr. Lim, in this country of 43 million people, that in itself is a big problem. Since Mr. Lim is already gone, the Blue House should take advantage of his departure by converting its policy mechanism from one relying on individual policy superstars into a systemic style of management.
President Kim expected the visit to Pyongyang by President Jiang Zemin of China to produce a clue to a breakthrough in deadlocked inter-Korean relations. But on the day that Mr. Jiang arrived in Pyongyang, the sunshine policy was damaged anew by the Assembly's repudiation of Mr. Lim. The North's sudden proposal to resume dialogue, though, can offset the negative impact on the sunshine policy, depending on how skillful we are in handling the resumed negotiations.
Now that the ruling majority coalition has crumbled and the opposition has regained a majority in the Assembly, the MDP more than ever need to open the sunshine policy up to public debate in an attempt to rebuild a consensus for pursuing it. President Kim needs to display great wisdom. He should stop lamenting that he cannot do anything without the cooperation of the opposition. He must recognize that fruitful efforts toward reconciliation with the North will come only through dialogue, public support and domestic political compromises.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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