[Viewpoint] Stay strong against sunshine offensive

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[Viewpoint] Stay strong against sunshine offensive

Dong Yong-sueng
Since their about-face in August, North Korea has made conciliatory gestures after more than a year of heightened provocations. It started with the North Korean delegation sent to pay their respects at the memorial service for the late President Kim Dae-Jung, champion of the “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation, but the moves should not be regarded as a breakthrough, and the international community should not led its guard down.

Although the delegation’s trip was considered an “unofficial visit,” the group met with major figures of the governing and opposition parties. Moreover, important figures in inter-Korean relations - Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek and Kim Yang-gon, a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, United Front Department - had a closed-door meeting for one hour and 20 minutes.

Topping off the round of visits was a trip to the Blue House, which the delegation requested. No doubt the North Koreans would have been agitated if they had been denied a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak. Still, the Blue House was not obligated to agree and demonstrated special generosity in acceding to the unusual request.

It seems the North Koreans, who added an extra day to their scheduled two-day visit, emphasized the need for improvements in the inter-Korean relationship to every figure they met in Seoul. Particularly, it is said that they stressed commitment to the implementation of the June 15 and Oct. 4 joint declarations on promoting inter-Korean relations and peaceful reunification. It is unknown if the Blue House was as explicit, but it probably expressed the same feeling. When returning to the North, the delegation seemed satisfied. Maybe that was because they had completed their mission. They must have been tasked to pay tribute to Kim Dae-jung, deliver Kim Jong-il’s message to President Lee, ascertain the atmosphere of the South and spread a feeling of reconciliation.

One wonders if the delegation will deliver an accurate impression of what they saw and heard to Kim Jong-il. Hopefully they realized that if the North ignores the current atmosphere and tries to avoid denuclearization - the core divisive issue - all while persistently urging the implementation of the two declarations, they will never be able to improve inter-Korean relations. But it is doubtful the correct interpretation will be delivered or heeded, even if it is accurate.

President Lee made it clear in his Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15 that economic cooperation between the South and North will bear fruit only when political and military issues (i.e., denuclearization and disarmament of conventional weapons) are solved first. The Inter-Korean Basic Agreement concluded in December 1991 encompasses all political and military issues, including the nuclear issue. But the North seems to want to resolve political and military issues with the United States and only deal with economic issues with the South. Although they might have obtained what they wanted with the previous administration in Seoul, the mood has changed.

Obviously aware of the change, the North is now employing typical strategies under which it tries to get the South to persuade the U.S. that Pyongyang is willing to restart dialogue. As part of an orchestrated effort to weaken the international alliance that is reining in Pyongyang, North Korea will perform conciliatory gestures for the U.S., the South and even Japan.

The North appeared to obtain a direct channel to Washington when it released the detained American reporters. For the South, it will resume reunions of separated families, which will be used to move the emotions of our citizens. It will even begin to reach out to the hearts and minds of the Japanese, targeting the newly ruling Democratic Party of Japan. But when it comes to the nuclear issue, the North will stick to its position, insisting that it will not budge “as long as hostile U.S. policies against the North remain.”

Hence, the regime will not slow its work developing nuclear weapons. The assertion made by the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations that the regime has succeeded in enriching uranium demonstrates the North’s ever-present threat to the international community.

As it shifts from hard-line confrontation toward selective appeasement combined with a comprehensive get-tough policy, the North is not feeling much pain yet from international sanctions. That will embolden Pyongyang’s stance even if sanctions strengthen further. That is why the other nations in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea need to steel themselves. The North will not suffer from sanctions at their current level, and the present degree of solidarity among six-party nations will not dampen the North’s determination for nuclear development.

Now is not the time for complacency, thinking that the North’s recent conciliatory moves are a sign that economic sanctions are having an effect. The North, fearful of the six-party alliance acting as a united front, is focusing on disrupting that solidarity. Still, the shortcut to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is policy cooperation among the South, the U.S. and Japan as well as the active participation by China and Russia.

*The writer is senior fellow in the Global Studies Department at Samsung Economi
c Research Institute. For more SERI reports, please visit www.seriworld.org.

by Dong Yong-sueng
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