[Viewepoint] The death of the Sunshine Policy

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[Viewepoint] The death of the Sunshine Policy

British politician William Wilberforce led a parliamentary campaign to ban the slave trade from Africa ahead of its complete abolition in the late 18th century. The British Empire had been enjoying an economic boon through the so-called “triangular route” of transporting men and women from Africa and having them labor on plantations in West Indies to produce slave-grown cotton and other goods that were then exported back home to Britain. This was also known as the “golden route,” and it generated much of the empire’s foreign income.

But abolitionists were surprised to discover that despite the immense fortunes generated, the lives of the slave owners and traders were actually tragic. The captains and crew of slave carriers became ever more depraved and violent and were up to their chins in liquor and gambling. The death rate among crew members during sailings reached 25 percent, more than 10 times those on normal trading ships.

Antislavery activists attributed the cause of these tragedies to the depravity on which the slave trade system was built. Slaves were chained in ship holds and forced to endure horrific conditions sailing across the Atlantic. Those who fell ill were thrown overboard. The trade was built on vice and generated vice.

Such an upward cycle of moral depravity is seen in modern societies as well. You’re not likely to find fundamentally content people in the trades of human trafficking, drugs, gambling and gang organizations. That’s because their lives are contaminated and ruined by the vicious worlds in which they make their livings.

A while ago, newspapers carried a photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visiting a factory making twisted bread stick. How bizarre it was to see the leader of a nation touring a bread stick factory in these high-tech days. The people in his land long to eat wholesome meals with meat. Why has that land been cursed by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for so long?

Normal societies overcome famines and floods in a couple of years. But North Korea has made little progress because it is shackled to a system of vice. Kim Jong-il and his elite inner circle are like the captain and crew of a slave trade ship. They live off human trade. But they will not save themselves or their people unless they free themselves from the chain of vice. Will they be better off if we help them? They must save themselves first. They must climb out of the abyss of moral depravity.

The years of our engagement policy toward North Korea were squandered because we ignored this important factor. We were naive to believe that if we help them with good intentions, they would behave similarly. But the two tragic incidents this year - the Cheonan attack and the Yeonpyeong shelling - have proven how clueless we were.

We were oblivious to the fact that the regime runs a fundamentally vicious system. We chose not to recognize it for the last ten years. We wanted to believe that North Korea would warm up if we directed some sunshine its way. We heartily gave money, food and fertilizer.

But the North only became more greedy and vicious. The Sunshine Policy extended and deepened its vicious mechanisms. The elite filled up their larders with champagne and luxury goods while the working people starved or were tormented in prison camps. While calling for one nation for the Korean race, they have been assembling nuclear weapons that threaten to destroy the bulk of that race across the border.

The huge structure in the form of a Christmas tree on Aegibong Peak, south of the demilitarized zone in Gimpo, was illuminated for the first time in seven years. The tree was dark during the last governments because North Korea was “annoyed” by the lights. Why does North Korea fear the light of Christmas? Evil fears light because it drives away the darkness. Proponents of the Sunshine Policy, however, gave into the evil forces and shut the light off. The lights of Aegibong send a message of freedom, humility and peace.

We should have endeavored to promulgate such a message in North Korea instead of giving them physical aid, and we should have given North Koreans hope with the light across the border. They could have been inspired to break free from the dark and move toward the light.

The Romans never showed tolerance until they conquered their enemies. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain pleaded for peace by conceding the territory of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the Munich Agreement of 1938. But Adolf Hitler went on with his invasions and finally caused the Second World War. In reality, peace is not won by appeasement. Peace without the support of force is a kind of surrender.

Our engagement policy was also a kind of plea for peace. Many still insist we ought to continue to show tolerance toward North Korea for the sake of peace. But that would mean selling into a system of vice. U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke recently died. He brokered the Dayton Accords, bringing peace to the Balkans. A skilled diplomat and negotiator, Holbrooke once said there can’t be a choice between idealistic peace and realistic force because both are needed to end a conflict.

Time has come to declare the death of the Sunshine Policy. We must empower ourselves and shine light on North Koreans to help them liberate themselves. There are many ways to do that. Once they are freed from evil forces, we can genuinely help them.

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


By Moon Chang-keuk
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