What is Sunshine Policy?

    1. Definitions

    The Korean Peninsula is a region in suspended animation. It is trapped in an anachronistic atmosphere of mistrust and conflict when the rest of the world has moved on to the post-Cold War era; two states locked in silent confrontation across a hostile border. But we simply cannot allow the north-south relation to be hostage to an unending political war of attrition.

    The sunshine policy seeks to bring about a state of peaceful coexistence in the Korean Peninsula by effecting changes in North Korea through reconciliation, cooperation, and mutual exchange, all founded upon a basis of airtight national security.

    The Government of the People has designed the sunshine policy to encourage North Korean reform and openness, which will lead to lifting of tensions between the North and the South and concomitantly end the state of confrontation between the two. It is also a policy guided by three unwavering principles of zero-tolerance for aggression, renunciation of unification through absorption, and an active drive for reconciliation and mutual exchange.

    The three guiding principles driving this policy makes it the most realistic policy that can terminate the state of confrontation, and lead the Koreas to mutual prosperity based on coexistence, cooperation, and exchange.

    2. What Makes it Right

    The old policy of political isolation and containment of North Korea has been abandoned for one of assistance and cooperation, and it is hoped that it will create an atmosphere conducive to change and reform in the north. Such is the logic and justification that belies the sunshine policy.

    First, it is a policy with historical precedence in its favor. No policy aimed at bringing down totalitarian regimes by political pressure and containment has ever succeeded, as demonstrated by US policies toward Cuba, Libya, and Iraq, with closer examples being provided by past ROK policies towards the north.

    Second. North Korea fears possible detrimental effects improvement in Inter-Korean relations and reform could have on their regime. If we can show North Korea that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from economic cooperation induced by the sunshine policy, it may alleviate their tendency for military adventurism towards the south.

    Third, an arms race triggered by increased political and military tension can create major obstacles for our efforts to surmount the IMF crisis by keeping foreign investment away, and could lead to aggression by a desperate North Korean regime.

    Fourth, it can assuage North Korean fears that reform and improving relations must necessarily lead to an implosion of their state, which can establish an atmosphere where North Korea would feel comfortable in opening up voluntarily.

    Fifth, the surrounding powers still have vested interests at stake in the Korean peninsula, and their support for the sunshine policy does not leave much room for deviation.

    Sixth, it is a policy decided through necessary decision-making processes and passed muster with public opinion.

    3. The Difference

    First, the policy gives priority to achieving political stability under present conditions over trying to fulfill unrealistic expectations of immediate reunification.

    Second, it is a policy standing upon a firm basis of national security, and a deft combination of maintaining security while improving North-South relations, as attested by its Three Guiding Principles.

    Third, the ROK acts and not reacts to North Korea by actively pursuing its own northern policy under its own terms, and only an active policy can induce changes in North Korea.

    The Anticipated Effects

    1. A Logical Policy

    Inducing reforms and openness can change the totalitarian nature of the North Korean regime, which will successfully improve the human rights situation in North Korea and bring it within the fold of the free-market system. It is in complete concordance with the ideals of liberal democracy and the free market economy, ROK's two driving principles. It also corresponds perfectly with our stated goal of national unification preceded by prevention of conflict and reconciliation.

    North Korea is a starving country that needs our help, but at the same time one armed to the teeth. This is the realization that lies at the background of sunshine policy, and thus makes simultaneous achievement of peace and mutual prosperity possible. It also has succeeded it capturing the zeitgeist of the post-Cold War era by operating under a basic premise of peace, which dovetails with policies of engagement by our allies, especially the US.

    While some claim the policy is far too lenient towards acts of aggression such as infiltration of our coastline by submarines and agents, it has earned the full confidence of average citizens who firmly believe relief of tensions and re-establishing mutual trust will effect a permanent solution to these acts.

    2. Implementation

    The government will spare no efforts to better Inter-Korean relations through faithful execution of the Basic Agreement. First and foremost is the resolution of the issue of separated families, and we will redouble efforts to open negotiations through the Red Cross, and establishing rendezvous centers or formal exchange of letters by inviting participation by international organizations, and if possible, make formal visits by separated families possible.

    The government will not interfere in civilian humanitarian aid to North Korea, but at the same time, all large-scale aid or assistance by the government will be done in accordance with the principles of reciprocity, thereby increasing flexibility in decision-making. We will also make sure political decisions do not affect economic cooperation between the two Koreas, and will concentrate on those issues which are mutually beneficial. For example, the construction of the light-water reactor in North Korea is a project sanctioned by the international community and a symbol of mutual development of two Koreas, and therefore will be pushed forward in a consistent and meticulous manner. Of course, success of the sunshine policy rests on public support, a critical factor in its implementation, and all policies will be conducted with the public's agreement and understanding.

    3. Desired Effects

    It is hoped that the North and the South will establish peaceful relations through reconciliation and mutual exchange. Case in point, the foundation for German unification was laid in 1972 by FRG's Ostpolitik, which allowed for visitations by 3 million German on an annual basis across their common border. Mutual exchange in an atmosphere of peace will be conducive to Korean unification as well.

    Another hope harbored by the policy's makers is that it will make North Korea abandon its policy of isolation and embrace both reform and the free market system. North Korea is in dire straits, being crushed by a disintegrating economy and mass starvation, and has been forced to asking South Korea and the international community for help. Tangible aid with such items as food, medical supplies, and more recently, cows, will be instrumental factors for change in North Korea.

    Northern and International Reaction to the Policy

    1. North Korean Attitudes

    Fervent denunciation has been North Korea's first reaction to the policy. They have been calling it a "Smokescreen to cover preparations for an invasion and an attempt to dismantle our country from within", and saying that "All the world knows such backbiting treachery will never succeed against us". North Korean attitudes toward separation of economic and more political issues had been encouraging, however, as they realize that they have nothing to lose and some real benefits to gain from cooperation.

    The basic nature of North Korea's reaction to the policy can be best described as two-sided. Their criticism of the policy as a political assault on their system has not prevented them from being receptive to certain 'profitable' proposals they deem as having political justification. Sunshine policy seeks to make mutual beneficiaries out of both Koreas, and it is hoped that it will improve interKorean relations through real cooperation, pending North Korea's recognition of its basic purpose.

    2. International Acknowledgement

    The policy is in agreement with the spirit of the US, Chinese, and Japanese stance towards North Korea, and wholehearted support from those countries was forthcoming.

    The US has held President Kim's efforts toward peace on the peninsula and interKorean reconciliation in high regard. The plan is to proceed in stages. It would first foster and increase exchange in the civilian sector, then expand into cooperation on the government level, for coexistence and co-prosperity between the two Koreas. It treats politics and cooperation as separate issues, and the US considers it the most realistic policy given the situation on the peninsula. The policy also displays similarities with Japan's North Korea policy, and has received positive consideration from its government as well. China and Russia have engaged in a corresponding policy of economic support for North Korea, such as supply of needed food and petroleum to the impoverished country, to prevent Northeast Asian security being placed under jeopardy by a possible implosion of the DPRK.

    Understanding the Sunshine Policy

    1. Sunshine Policy and Security

    Claims that the sunshine policy is compromising national attitude on security are unfounded, as is the misunderstood version of the sunshine policy as a policy of unreciprocated cooperation underlying such criticism. The first of its three main tenets is a declaration of zero tolerance for any acts of aggression by North Korea, and its firm attitude on security does not deserve to be held thus in question.

    Though peace through cooperation and negotiation is the basic idea behind the sunshine policy, the maintenance of sound national security is predicated upon its implementation. Its goal is to encourage North Korean openness without an iota of compromise on security, and security and the policy are not mutually exclusive, as some have been led to believe. A policy able to proceed with mutual cooperation without relaxing security, it is unquestionably the best policy adaptation to the changing security environment of the post-Cold War era, one that is expected to sweep the peninsula clean of the last reminders of the Cold War.

    A hardline stance will only serve to make the deadlock on the peninsula even worse by eliciting an equally rigid response from North Korea. Such will only increase the gravity of the security dilemma facing South Korea, and spiral again into a vicious cycle of escalating tension. While North Korean threats will be met swiftly where they happen, they will not be allowed to shake the foundations of the policy. And the resulting relaxation of tensions and an atmosphere of trust will undoubtedly provide South Korea with a permanent solution to North Korean belligerency.

    2. Sunshine Policy and Reciprocal Relations

    A policy of aid and support for North Korea while adhering to principles of reciprocity will at first seem incompatible. But it actually serves the same purpose of fostering an environment of cooperation and building a solid basis for unification, firstly as policy implementation and secondly as its supporting principle. The principle of reciprocity in the policy is very different from the rule of parity of exchange that underlies commercial transactions. It merely states North Korea has to reciprocate South Korea's efforts at building trust with certain measures of its own, and it is not one-to-one or mercantilistic, as North Korea claims.

    3. Economic Cooperation Before Transformation

    North Korea has recently been expanding its initially limited programs for attracting foreign investment. The DPRK government has designated the Najin-Sunbong area a special free-trade zone, and has made efforts to apply free-market principles to the area on an experimental basis.

    A look at the history of InterKorean economic relations reveals economic exchange, but no earnest attempt at full economic cooperation, which is a necessary precondition to any possible changes in North Korea. The policy of precluding any change in North Korea before full economic cooperation will make our intentions for dialogue and compromise in a number of areas clear to the North, and will give them more options to choose from, replacing the zero-sum choices it had until now.

    The policy includes real aid to sustain North Korea over the difficulties it faces at present, such as food aid and help in developing its agriculture. Economic aid and cooperation will lead to an inevitable expansion of human and material exchange between the two Koreas, and North Korea is likely to change to accomodate such expansion. Such cooperation will be a boon for South Korea, and help the ROK surmount the IMF crisis.

    4. The Preconditions

    Some of the requirements for the continued implementation of the sunshine policy are as follows: solid and unwavering security, public support and trust in the policy, support and cooperation from other nations, superiority over North Korea in every aspect, and a strong government.


    The Korean electorate affirmed its support for liberal democracy by a first-ever power transition between parties by election. The voters also chose to reject long-standing regionalism, and the resulting sense of unity provided a foundation for solid security. South Korea also has accumulated enough military strength to deal with any military adventurism toward it by an economically desperate North. In addition, American and Japanese cooperation have added to the ROK's ability to react to contingencies, and South Korea has thus met security prerequisites for the implementation of the sunshine policy.


    93.4 percent of all North Korea/Unification specialists who participated in the Ministry of Unification survey after infiltration by a North Korean submarine insist that sunshine policy must still advance despite the incident. Moreover, there is no diminution in public support for the sunshine policy, the midget sub intrusion and the discovery of a northern agent's body notwithstanding.


    The ROK-US summit and the Korea-Japan Security Conference have not only succeeded in securing American and Japanese support for the policy, but also ensured close coordination with the two countries in all their future policies concerning North Korea.

    A common understanding of the issues involved in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula was reached between the US and China during a US presidential visit to the PRC, and it could create a synergistic effect in combination with the expansion of security channels among the ROK, China and Russia in solidifying the security regime, given support and cooperation by the surrounding powers.


    Korea's swift restructuring of the economy and subsequent recovery of its international credit has swelled its coffers with more than 40 billion dollars in foreign exchange, and has done so despite IMF supervision. The stabilization of the Korean economy has come sooner than most expected, and a general recovery is predicted for the near future.

    North Korea's economic slide continues, with a seven percent decrease in its gross domestic product reported for 1997. The economic gap between the south and the north continues to widen, with numbers clearly indicating the ROK's absolute advantage. Moreover, the dollar figures for North Korean products purchased by South Korea amounted to $200 million in 1997, accounting for a full 29% of North Korean exports for the year, and the ROK has become North Korea's biggest supplier of its foreign exchange.

    The absolute economic advantage the south holds over the north, along with its superior technical and capital base, gives the ROK the economic wherewithal to advance the policy.


    Separation of political and economic issues is the standard for the execution of the sunshine policy, and the government commitment to the standard and the principles of the policy itself is not subject to fluctuation.. This fact has allowed the government possession of strong leadership so vital to preventing renewed hostilities on the peninsula and initiating the process of change in North Korea.

    It is safe to conclude that we as a country already possess all the prerequisites necessary for the success of the policy we call sunshine. It success will now hinge on the government's and the public's consistent commitment towards the long-tern success of the policy.