April 12, 1999

The Government of the People's Sunshine Policy toward North Korea and Plans for Implementation


What Is the Sunshine Policy?

The Sunshine Policy is the mainstay of the Republic of Korea's North Korea policies aimed at achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula through reconciliation and cooperation with the North. It is not a simple appeasement policy in that it pursues peace on the basis of a strong security stance.

The Government recognizes reality¡ªthe reunification of two Koreas will not be achieved in the near future as the two sides have been facing off in conflicts and confrontation for more than half a century. The Government believes that settlement of peace and coexistence is more important than anything else at the present time. This is why the "Government of the People"¡ªthe Kim Dae-jung Administration¡ªhas adopted the Sunshine Policy based on three principles. The three principles stipulate that first, we will not tolerate any armed provocation hampering peace on the peninsula; second, we will not try to hurt or absorb North Korea; and third, we will actively push reconciliation and cooperation with the North beginning with those areas which can be most easily agreed upon. By faithfully complying with the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation Between the South and the North (the Basic Agreement), it is hoped that the Pyongyang authorities will begin down the road to reform and change.

Even after East European Communist regimes crumbled in the later years of the 1980s, North Korea steadfastly maintained closed-door, hostile policies against the South in a belief that reform and open-door policies might lead to its demise and ultimate absorption into the South. Such defensiveness has been the fundamental obstacle to peace and improved relations between the two sides.

There are two approaches that the Republic is taking in an effort to change North Korean attitudes. First, the Government is trying to persuade Pyongyang that their scheme to unify the peninsula by force is just not possible. The Government has been diligent in building a strong defense posture that can counter any armed adventure by the North. Recognizing the paramount importance of a strong deterrent, the Administration will continue to place top priority on the maintenance of adequate national defense capability.

Second, the Republic is trying to promote an atmosphere that will help Pyongyang start to reform and open up on its own volition. It is hoped that the North Korean authorities will recognize that dialogue and cooperation with the South will actually help them stabilize their regime and benefit themselves. They need to understand that reform and outward-looking policies will not lead to annexation by the South. Far from it, time and again, the Republic has made the point that it has no intention of absorbing the North. The Government is actively pushing for South-North cooperation and exchanges¡ª especially in the private sector and in humanitarian areas. Government-to-government exchanges, however, will be carried out on the principle of reciprocity. For instance, the Administration has tabled an offer to donate 200,000 tons of fertilizer because, in the recent Beijing talks, Pyongyang refused to allow members of separated families in the South to visit their relatives in the North. The Sunshine Policy is meant to embrace the North, but it is not a give-away charity.

The unification of Germany provides a convincing rationale for the Republic's stance that it will not absorb North Korea. After the sudden collapse of East Germany, West Germany was tremendously burdened by a slew of problems originating from the other side. Presently, North Korea is faced with wide-spread famine and economic disaster. North Korea watchers agree that, should North Korea suddenly crumble, the resulting social chaos and financial costs would be beyond the ability of South Korea to absorb. It is the judgement of the Government that at the moment it is in the best interest of the Republic to prevent an abrupt collapse of the North, and, instead, to work for gradual improvement in bilateral relations and unification by encouraging them to reform and open up.

This is where the Sunshine Policy comes in. It is aiming at providing an environment that will allay their fears and help them to choose to come out of their cocoon. With the Sunshine Policy, the Government hopes to engage Pyongyang and lead it to a "soft-landing" on the road to permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Why is the Sunshine Policy Needed?

Reunification still remains the most important national objective and aspiration of Koreans. But we have to recognize that it cannot be realized without first putting an end to the cold-war confrontation with the North and establishing solid peace on the peninsula. The half-a-century old distrust and enmity should be replaced with reconciliation and cooperation so that the two sides can live peacefully based on mutual trust. It is regrettable that North Korea is sticking to its policy of unifying the country by force. The Pyongyang authorities are still reluctant to come forward for inter-Korea exchanges and cooperation for fear that that might adversely affect their hold on the people.

The Government feels it is necessary to persuade the North on the benefits that they would be reaping from exchanges with the South rather than apply hostile pressure or an economic blockade. As we have learned in the past, hostile policies and blockades only worsen the situation and intensify political and military confrontation. Heightened tensions are bound to bring on an armed race burdening both sides heavily. It certainly would hurt the Republic's current efforts to induce foreign investments and overcome the economic crisis. What is worse, if North Korea were to collapse as the result of a blockade or under its own weight, the cost of being forced to care for our North Korean brethren would be enormous. In addition, there would always be the chance that a desperate Pyong-yang would go the hot war route. All these options considered, the Sunshine Policy seems to be the only sensible alternative.

Now that East-West confrontation is long gone, the Government's Sunshine Policy is actively supported by the U.S., China and other neighboring countries. It is in line with our friends' approaches to Pyongyang. China and the U.S. have been extending economic assistance to North Korea since its food situation became critical in a bid to prevent the sudden downfall of the Pyongyang regime and the resulting chaos that would surely threaten the stability of Northeast Asia. Washington is pursuing a policy of engagement and intervention in the region in an effort to neutralize North Korean hostility toward the outside world and induce it to a soft landing in a peaceful world.

How is the Sunshine Policy Being Implemented?

The Government regards the 1992 Basic Agreement Between the South and the North as the most important document because it sets out matters of fundamental importance. Both Koreas should start complying with the provisions of the Agreement. The present Kim Dae-jung Administration intends to actively pursue South-North dialogue and has already proposed, among other things, an exchange of special envoys to prepare for communication between the top leaders of the two sides. When South-North dialogue resumes, the Government hopes to discuss easier and practical issues first, instead of trying to tackle all the issues contained in the Basic Agreement.

Economic cooperation between the South and the North will be carried out in a way that honors the independence of private businesses and the principle of give and take. The South could provide what the North wants first, but the details would have to be decided through mutual consultation and agreement. To facilitate inter-Korea trade, the Government has taken measures to abolish the investment ceiling, simplify trading procedures, and encourage business trips to the North.

As the two sides begin exchanges, the one area that looms rather prominently in the minds of Government policy makers is a humanitarian one. After being separated 50 years ago, 10 million Koreans still have close relatives who live on the other side of the Military Demarcation Line. They do not even know if they are still alive. Considering the advancing age of the first-generation separated family members, the Government of the People feels that it is most urgent that North Korea respond to our call for reunions of those families without any further delay. The Government has already decided to simplify passport issuance for older people applying to visit North Korea. Low-income travelers will be subsidized. When the South-North talks resume, the Government will give priority to pushing for the realization of exchanges of mail and "hometown visitors," and the establishment of places for family reunions.

The Government is taking the position that food shipments to Pyongyang should continue, considering the North's acute food shortage. Private-level humanitarian food assistance will be provided free of charge, but large-scale food assistance by the Government will be tied to the North's reciprocal actions. In addition, the Administration is carrying out several programs aimed at fundamentally improving the North's food production system through joint South-North agricultural development and other economic cooperation projects.

The South Korean Government is also constructing a light-water nuclear reactor in North Korea in return for Pyongyang's promise to freeze its nuclear program. The power facilities should benefit all Koreans in the long run. The nuclear reactor project will continue not only because the Government is taking the initiative, but also because it is part of an international agreement. It will be carried out in the most cost-effective way. Also, the Republic will consult closely with the U.S. and Japan, the two other parties to the agreement, to ensure that they contribute their share of the costs and help finish the project on time.

The Government is determined to improve South-North relations based on the 1992 Basic Agreement. In tandem with efforts to have direct communications with Pyongyang, the Government is exerting all-out efforts to settle peace on the peninsula through the Four-Party Talks and contacts with other members of the international community. The South-North dialogue will focus on inter-Korea reconciliation and cooperation while the Four-Party Talks will concentrate on building a permanent peace structure on the peninsula shifting away from the tentative peace brought about by the 1953 Armistice Agreement between the warring parties. The Government will also encourage North Korea to develop better relations with other countries including the U.S. and Japan and become a responsible member of international society.

The Sunshine Policy Should Be Implemented Continuously and Consistently

The people of Korea agree that the Republic should embrace their brethren in the North. In a public opinion survey conducted on the February 25 inauguration day, an overwhelming majority of 93.8 per cent supported the Government's North Korea policies. Even in a survey done after the North Korean submarine incursion in June, 62.4 percent of the people supported the Sunshine Policy. That contrasts with the 93.4 percent support given for the policy by a group of North Korea experts in a similar survey.

It is not likely that North Korea will come out of the decades of isolation and self-imposed confinement any time soon just because of our Sunshine Policy. But we also know that Pyongyang's isolation will not go on forever. With the nation's strong resolve and perseverance, we know that the Sunshine Policy will succeed.