Liberal Times; Sunshine Policy and the Question of Time

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), March 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Liberal Times; Sunshine Policy and the Question of Time


It is one of the very pleasant privileges of my job as representative of the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation to attend academic conferences, seminars and workshops that deal with various political issues I have a professional and also personal interest in. In some cases my foundation actually sponsors such events, in others I am asked to contribute as a speaker or so-called discussant, and then again I attend such meetings as a normal participant.

This was the case last weekend at an international conference in Seoul organized by the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation marking President Kim's two year anniversary in office. The conference was titled ``The South-North Relations and the Dismantling of the Cold War Structure'' (on the Korean peninsula). This was one of the most interesting events of the kind I have attended for a long time. It would lead too far to report or even summarize the content of the papers and discussions of that meeting. My intention is to comment on one point and argument which I found particularly relevant. This pertains to the issue of time and timing in evaluating Seoul's policy via-a-vis North Korea.

It is well known that there are differing views regarding the merits of the Sunshine Policy. Different views on policy issues are all but normal in democratic societies. And from a liberal view, foreign policy matters certainly should not be excluded from this basic rule. Differing views on diplomatic and other options regarding North Korea are not only apparent in the domestic political debate in the South. This debate is also taking place between the major political actors in the international arena, mainly between the Seoul government and her friends and allies in the United States and to an increasing degree in Japan. In this regard it was useful to have senior speakers from those countries at the conference mentioned in the beginning. With former U.S. congressman Stephen Solarz and former chief negotiator on Nort

Korean nuclear affairs Robert Galluci, the audience was presented two resource persons who knew the issues not only from reading the newspapers. During the discussion following the presentations, Kim Kyung-won, director of the Institute of Social Sciences and former South Korean ambassador to Washington, confronted the speakers with a simple, but very fundamental question: ``When do we know that the Sunshine Policy has succeeded or failed?''

In my eyes this question in a certain manner expresses in a nutshell the problematic nature of the Sunshine Policy. The content and the aims of that policy are by far less controversial than the methodology. Hardly anyone is not in favor of normalizing the relations with Pyongyang, or improving economic relations, yes -- to be even more basic -- to secure peace on the Korean peninsula. The opponents of the Sunshine Policy, be they in South Korea or elsewhere, don't disassociate themselves from these goals. They argue that these aims are unrealistic and illusionary. ``We are presenting Pyongyang with one handout after the other and they don't even say thank you,'' is one of the arguments heard again and again by those opposing the sunshine strategy.

This brings us to the crucial issue of how to measure the success of the policy.

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