Sunshine Policy revisited
Last Thursday I had an opportunity to revisit the Sunshine Policy when I chaired a peace conference at the Kim Dae-jung Library of Yonsei University to celebrate the 11th anniversary of President Kim Dae-jung’s winning of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.
Much of the discussion at the conference touched on the philosophy and religious conviction of Kim Dae-jung that formed the underlining tenets of the Sunshine Policy ― forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation and cooperation for peace.
Presenting a paper at the conference, Gary Alan Spanovich, executive director of the Wholistic Peace Institute (WPI), which works with Nobel Peace laureates, spoke of Kim as ``both a man of God and a man of the people.” Kim had ``a strong personal faith and philosophy that sustained him throughout his decades’ long fight for democracy and human rights in his homeland” and around the world by sending powerful messages and demonstrating his ``conscience in action.” ``And he displayed incredible grace and courage under dress and attacks.”
Spanovich noted that no force on earth ― including several attempts on his life, a death sentence, and imprisonment ― could shake Kim’s faith or force him to stop praying for democracy and the people whom he loved. To Spanovich, who is a Catholic, Kim was a saint-like servant of God. He said the Sunshine Policy is a model paradigm for conflict resolution that can be applied around the troubled world.
Paik Hak-soon, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute who participated as a panelist, aptly attributed the source of the Sunshine Policy to Kim’s ``trust in history and the people” that stems from his acute sense of history and his understanding of the accumulative wisdom of thousands of years of human experience.
Paik reminded the audience that President Kim always addressed the people as ``my beloved and respected people.” To many students of government, Kim was a ``classic philosopher statesman” who believed in the due judgment of history during his struggle for democracy and during his pursuit for peacemaking on the Korean Peninsula with a vision for eventual unification.
Park Myung-rim, a second panelist who teaches political science at Yonsei University, also observed that Kim sought to avoid war, often talking as if it was a ``categorical imperative” for him based on what appeared to be his religious faith beyond political calculation. For the sake of the Korean people who had suffered enormously from the tragic outcome of a fratricide war, Kim was determined to eliminate the threat of war from the peninsula.
Park and Spanovich echoed their view that Kim’s forgiveness of the two former presidents who tried to kill him ought to be understood in terms of his innate trait of Christian magnanimity. Kim’s goal was to achieve democratization. It was not to punish the dictators. The former president’s engagement with North Korea that was responsible for the war probably can best be understood in terms of forgiveness for the past and the pragmatic need of reconciliation and cooperation.
Park discussed the seemingly contradictory dichotomy between justice and magnanimity regarding the Sunshine Policy as practiced in dealing with the North Korean leadership. To realize ``ultimate justice” over acrimony and hostility, he reasoned, the Sunshine Policy sought cooperation with a touch of magnanimity.
A third panelist was Lee Jong-moo, president of the Peace Sharing and Mutual Assistance between the Same Nation, who described the food aid programs under the Sunshine Policy, making several specific recommendations to improve the efficacy of humanitarian assistance. He suggested that aid to the North should be treated as an independent area of policy planning and implementation from other North Korea policy issues. However, it is doubtful that humanitarian aid would ever be separated completely from an overall policy toward the North.
The significance of the conference on the topic of the Sunshine Policy as ``A Way to World Peace” was readily underscored as the state of inter-Korean relations has been deteriorated to the lowest ebb, since the abandonment of the engagement policy that had continued for 10 years. The subsequent hardliner policy ended the peace process that had begun under the Sunshine Policy and effectively killed any serious, constructive dialogue.
The conference noted the results of the Sunshine Policy, including a great reduction of tension, the two North-South summits, a framework for exchanges and cooperation toward unification, an agreement to develop a peace zone at the West Sea prone to armed naval clashes, the development of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, opening of the Mt. Geumgang tourism, the change in the attitude of the North Korean people toward their South Korean compatriots, and more.
The conference also addressed the allegation that the Sunshine Policy shoveled out plush aid to the North to support Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development without changing the country. Spanovich refuted the charge as having no evidence and the discussants opined the North would have developed the weapons with their own resources as a means of survival from perceived threats of U.S. hostile policy.
Spanovich concluded, ``It is time to restart the peace talks which were started under President Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy that took war off the table in order to end the Korean War and exchange ambassadors.” He also announced his institute’s plan to hold a Nobel Peace Laureate Conference for peace in Korea either late in 2012 or early in 2013.
Paik said he believed denuclearization, although more difficult now, is still possible to achieve. What’s your take?
The writer is a visiting research professor at Korea University and a visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies. He is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.