[Outlook]Living without Sunshine

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[Outlook]Living without Sunshine

What Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun had feared has finally happened. The Ministry of Unification is to be shut down. The ministry served to push Kim’s Sunshine Policy in the former administration, and in the incumbent administration it worked to further establish ideological identity. Through the ministry, the Kaesong Industrial Complex was created and fertilizer, rice and electricity worth 1 trillion won ($1.1 billion) were delivered to North Korea.
The presidential transition team emphasized that the existing policy would continue to be implemented. But one can assume that closing the Unification Ministry, dividing its duties and passing them to other government offices, signals the abolition of the Sunshine Policy. Forces supporting self-reliance will be replaced by alliance forces, pro-North Korean policy with pro-U.S. policy and North Korean affairs and issues will be cooperatively deliberated on by South Korea, the United States and Japan. With the order to abolish the Sunshine Policy, alliance forces who have roamed around remote areas in diplomacy will return home to occupy the headquarters of North Korean policy making.
They will rip the “shared nationality” label off all dealings with North Korea and give them separate project names. For instance, policies for peace and cooperation that have been weighted with hefty themes of unification will be degraded to simply “the Mount Paektu tourism project,” “the Haeju Harbor development project” or “the railway installation project.” Practical calculation of gains and losses will be prioritized over sloppy humanism with the idealistic goal of reconciliation and coexistence between a divided people of the same ethnicity.
It is uncertain whether this will be enough to shake off the resentment of conservatives who have been labeled anti-unification forces. Some labor, civic and popular movement organizations who have had favorable stances on North Korea, and conservatives who were not forgiving of the unethical Kim Jong-il regime have been dubbed anti-peace. So, the transition team might want to emphasize pragmatism in North Korean issues so as to get rid of pro-North Korean forces and policies.
For the past 10 years, liberal forces have used their discourse on reunification as a tool to expand their power, and their North Korea policy was full of items aimed at tearing down ideological boundaries. Thus, it seems a foregone conclusion that the liberals are destined to get a harsh response from conservatives.
However, the conservatives’ response should not deny the achievements of the past 10 years. Even some American political experts admit that the Sunshine Policy was useful in resolving unique issues between the two Koreas which could not have been resolved with just pro-U.S. diplomacy. Without the Sunshine Policy, Pyongyang would not have opened its doors and joint South-North projects would have been unimaginable.
The criticisms that South Korea has blindly shoveled aid at the North while fearing its reclusive neighbor too much are understandable. Nevertheless, it is thanks to the Sunshine Policy that we corrected a biased, Cold War-era standpoint and acquired a more mature and comprehensive perspective. If that perspective is required to resolve issues between the two Koreas, we need to examine whether there is anything wrong with the presidential transition team’s decision to put reunification affairs under the banner of foreign diplomacy and to allocate them to different government ministries.
Two questions come up.
First, it was a big mistake for the liberal administrations to have excluded diplomacy experts in drawing up and carrying out reunification policy instead focusing on ideology. However, it is also uncertain if diplomacy is enough to resolve reunification issues. As all matters related to reunification are important, we need to thoroughly examine whether it is a good idea to allocate reunification matters to other government offices.
The second question is about distributing reunification projects to other agencies depending on their function. For instance, if the Kaesong Industrial Complex project is passed on to the new Ministry of Knowledge and Economy, the place will be nothing more than a combination of South Korea’s capital and North Korea’s labor. Other joint projects will be merely development projects. Is that what we want, projects without any meaning? If so, who will handle complicated matters such as North Korean refugees? Who will predict, prepare and take control of future North Korea policy?
Dismantling the Sunshine Policy means that the age of pragmatism in North Korean issues is soon to arrive. But what does that imply? Is there a comprehensive blueprint for such an era?


*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun

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