Sunshine Policy should remain intact to secure peace: Rep. Choo Mi-ae

2010-12-06 : 16:37

Rep. Choo Mi-ae of the main opposition Democratic Party talks to The Korea Times about policy toward North Korea and her vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Lee Tae-hoon

The previous two liberal administrations’ engagement policy toward Pyongyang, known as the “Sunshine Policy” has come under criticism again as tensions on Korean Peninsula escalate to a new high, following North Korea’s artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23.

The hard-line Lee Myung-bak administration and governing Grand National Party (GNP) were quick to pass the buck to the preceding governments, claiming that Seoul’s economic assistance to Pyongyang and the latter’s alleged reluctance to dismantle its nuclear programs led to the tragic consequence.

However, Rep. Choo Mi-ae, a three-term lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party and a former special envoy to the U.S. on the North Korean nuclear issues in early 2003, begs to differ.

“The GNP and the incumbent administration have no right to talk about the failure of the Sunshine Policy,” Choo told The Korea Times in a recent interview at the National Assembly.

The judge-turned politician attributes the North plutonium program and its latest armed provocation, the first military strike on South Korean soil since the end of 1950-53 Korean War, to the Lee administration’s derailing of the engagement policy.

Only about 10 days prior to the surprise attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, the world’s most clandestine regime revealed to Stanford University professor Siegfried Hecker a covert uranium enrichment plant equipped with more than 1,000 centrifuges.

“The previous governments pursued the Sunshine Policy to prevent such devastating consequences, but the Lee administration stopped and derailed it upon taking office in Feb. 2008,” Choo said.

She likened the Sunshine Policy to a train with the final destination, named “Unification.”

“It was wrong for the new administration to derail a train on the track for unification,” the lawmaker added.

The Sunshine Policy was devised by the late President Kim Dae-jung from the Aesop fable “The North Wind and the Sun.” In the fable, when the wind blows strongly, the man clutches his coat tightly about him, but when the sun shines warmly, he voluntarily takes off his coat.

Choo said she believes more sanctions and hard-line policies against the North will only make the Stalinist regime resort more to the use of military force and its nuclear program.

Value of trust and consistency

She noted that rebuilding trust and maintaining consistency of North Korean policy are two of the most essential factors that could lead to denuclearization of the reclusive North and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which remains one of the most heavily armed places in the world.

“Korea should take a lesson from West Germany’s engagement policy, which was firmly backed by both liberal and conservative administrations for more than two decades until the realization of reunification with East Germany,” Choo said.

The lawmaker pointed out the broken trust between the Koreas may be restored by confirming agreements already reached by the two, including the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration that the leaders of the two Koreas signed during the first inter-Korean summit.

In the document, Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, agreed to seek unification independently by the concerted efforts of the Korean people and make efforts to replace the Armistice which ended the Korean War with a permanent peace treaty.

She noted that the 2000 declaration was in line with the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement signed by the conservative Roh Tae-woo administration in December 1991.

The Basic Agreement calls for reconciliation and nonaggression between the two Koreas.

“If the Lee administration upheld the spirit of the past inter-Korean agreements, such a serious national security threat as the attack on Yeonpyeong Island would not have taken place,” Choo said.

Security guarantee to the North

She said a security guarantee to Pyongyang should be considered as promised in the six-party talks in order to induce the reclusive regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Choo stressed that if the South and U.S. continue to insist on their stance that economic aid and security guarantee will be provided only after the communist North gives up its nuclear program first, the North will continue to develop nuclear weapons.

“If the North promises to irreversibly de-nuclearize, Seoul and Washington need to promise the corresponding security guarantee,” she said. “Unless the North is 100 percent assured, it will continue to make nuclear bombs.”

She noted that Pyongyang showed sincere efforts to dismantle its nuclear program until early 2008, when the South pursued the Sunshine Policy that reassured the communist regime’s security guarantee.

As part of a disarmament agreement of the six party talks, the North handed over to the U.S. State Department 18,000 pages of operating records from the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in May 2008.

Legal base for unification

She said the government should prepare the international legal basis for guaranteeing unification of the two Koreans and must not overlook the vacuum of this basis to seek reunification in the event of the collapse of North Korea.

“The division was not of the Korean people’s volition,” she said.

She pointed out that, even if North Koreans wanted reunion desperately, it would not be easy for them to make a self-determined decision and exercise their political destiny.

She said, if the communist regime falls apart, the separated Koreas could miss an opportunity for reunion, as this will inevitably lead to a political vacuum.

“Its geopolitical importance may induce intervention by neighboring countries such as China,” Choo said.

She urged the establishment of a legal basis that “guarantees unification via the Korean people’s own decision without any intervention and obstruction from outsiders in the event of an emergency.”

Currently, the Constitution of South Korea stipulates that North Korea is part of the former’s territory to prevent another country, such as China or Russia, from taking over the isolated country if the impoverished regime falls apart.

She underlined that the Sunshine Policy clearly set its goal as the reunification of the divided Koreas through an incremental approach.

Choo said when reform and opening expand, the North Korean people will be freed from the illusion of the military-first policy and regain the traditional value of Korean humanism, and homogeneity will be restored, paving a path to reunification.

Who is Choo Mi-ae?

Choo Mi-ae, 52, is a judge-turned politician. The three-term lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) served as a judge at the District Courts of Chuncheon, Incheon and Jeonju, and Gwangju High Court between 1985 and 1995.

She was first elected as a lawmaker to represent the district of Gwangjin-gu, Seoul in 1996, and maintained her seat in the following general election in 2000 with the majority of the vote.

She was appointed as special envoy to the United States on the North Korean nuclear issue in 2003.

Choo spearheaded her party’s general election campaign in 2004 when it was engulfed in a crisis in the wake of the parliamentary impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun in March 2004.

During the political turmoil, she earned the nickname, “Choo D’arc” for her strong leadership and determination to rescue her troubled party.

Following the election, she left the country to study at Columbia University in New York from Sept. 2004 through June 2006.

She became an invited professor at Hanyang Graduate School of International Studies in September 2006.

She successfully ran for her third-term as a legislator in 2008 and served as chairwoman of the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee between August 2008 and May 2010.