&#91OUTLOOK&#93Needed: fresh start for dialogue

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[OUTLOOK]Needed: fresh start for dialogue

The recent rumors about the $200 million that flew over the North-South border is bringing down what little is left of President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy." Just what went wrong with the policy and what lessons are to be learned here?

Far from coaxing the North to stop its sullen pouting, the sunshine policy had the effect of driving it further into its shell. President Kim's policy was meant to prevent war but it seems that the South-U.S. alliance, not any sunshine, was what deterred war. In fact, the two naval skirmishes that broke out off the west coast came when the sunshine policy was at its warmest.

Seoul reportedly has spent over $1.3 billion to support North Korea, and the timing of this financial aid coincided in large part with the time when the North was buying equipment to enrich uranium. Even while the June 15 summit meeting was taking place, the North was busy with a program to develop nuclear weapons. Now with the suggested element of bribery, what is there left to salvage of the sunshine policy?

Talks between the two Koreas must go on even after President Kim leaves, and this transition period is a good time to reflect on the record and the problems of that dialogue.

First, let's stop begging for talks. All efforts to create a better environment for talks should be kept going, but let's not treat Pyeongyang's assent to dialogue as something to be rewarded for its own sake. Keep domestic politics and international awards out of the issue. Groveling for dialogue has encouraged the North to arrogantly assume that it is doing us a favor by talking.

Second, talks should be official and transparent. The talks should not go according to the wishes of one man but according to government decisions. The public and the National Assembly should be fully notified of the details of any talks with Pyeongyang. A full sharing of information should take place between the president's special envoys and the unification ministry. True, secret talks are sometimes needed, but the secrets should be made known to at least a certain number of persons and any secrets kept so far should be passed on to the next administration. Did the $200 million go to the individual Kim Jong-il, or did it go to the North Korean government? What did President Kim talk about with Kim Jong-il during the 50-minute ride from the airport to the summit meeting site on that historic day in 2000?

Third, make it a dialogue and not a monologue. The South is well off and the North is poor. The South should provide financial aid to the North. That does not mean that the North should always be on the receiving end of the relationship. Let the North show its appreciation. Returning one prisoner of war for every 100,000 metric tons of rice, or allowing exchanges of letters seems like a sensible thing to ask on our side and a sensible thing to give on the North's part. Such gestures take very little effort but go a long way toward creating a better dialogue.

Fourth, promises made in the dialogue should be kept. Often, talks are started with the greatest of efforts but are ended in promises that are forgotten with the greatest of ease. Not keeping one's promise is a sign of disregard for the other party. We must make it clear that the breaking of a promise comes at a heavy price.

Fifth, must the talks cost so much? Does staying and dining in fancy hotels make government officials hold better talks and meetings? Naturally, some kind of ceremony was needed in the beginning, but this effort is going to take many visits. If things don't change, they are also going to use a lot more money than is necessary.

These points are some of the most commonsensical and simple lessons. Yet for the past five years, we have been ignoring such simple guidelines, a failure that has brought us a "South-South conflict" and now, rumors that the June 15 summit meeting was bought and paid for.

The strange spectacle of the two Korean governments collaborating to cover up the truth about the $200 million from South Korean taxpayers is taking place. Kim Jong-il has as much reason to wish that this affair would go away quietly as those responsible in the South do. President-elect Roh should not let the matter rest, as some might wish he would. Only the truth will allow us to make a fresh start in the North-South dialogue.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Song Chin-hyok
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