Give It Up Already. The Sunshine Policy is Dead.
Professor Choe Wan Kyu, writing in the Hankyoreh, had this to say on Lee Myung Bak’s shunning of the Sunshine Policy:
Lee’s administration should set a precedent in which a new administration recognizes continuity in relation to the predecessor administration, instead of trying to separate the two.
Professor Choe bases his arguments on two premises. Here is the first one:
If the new administration is overly critical of the old one and presents a new North Korea policy for political, instead of substantial, reasons, then the results will be clear. For the whole of its five years in office, it will be faced with the same difficulties the past two administrations have had for the past ten years. It might also have to watch its policy be denied by the administration that follows it.
Let’s deal with the first premise first. I’d be interested to know how Professor Choe defines the difference between “political” and “substantial” reasons for choosing a new North Korea policy. If these terms are so defined such that “political” means to score political points with his constituency and “substantial” means to correct errors that failed to work in the past, then there will certainly be some overlap between the two terms. To think that the two can be easily separated is a fallacy. And to think that because something is politically expedient than it can’t be substantial is a false dilemma.
Anyways, I think there is plenty of evidence to refute this premise. When a policy is failing, it’s time to change course. Just today, the Chosun Ilboreleased the latest in a long series of reports into North Korean abuses of international aid inflows that formed the backbone of the Sunshine Policy. In the latest version, it was revealed that South Korea knowingly supplied rice to front line units of the Korean People’s Army. Quoting the Chosun Ilbo:
But despite their knowledge of this fact, neither the South Korean government nor military authorities protested to North Korea or asked it for an explanation, apparently for fear of provoking Pyongyang.
Of course, Professor Choe once dismissed such concerns. When asked about supporting North Korea in an interview with the Argus, the English language bulletin of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, the professor replied:
Quite many people think that supporting North Korea needs to be stopped because the goods do not seemed to be distributed evenly to the public but to the army mostly. This is not desirable consideration at this time. The more we donate, the more goods must be given to the poor, our brothers and sisters.
This is essential. Let’s suppose that we were one nation, why wouldn’t we help those people in northern side. This is aid sharing the pains and suffers of our people.
ahhh..the old “uri minjok ggiri” card.
Regardless, feeding the enemies troops…Ok, maybe the true believers out there can somehow find a way to rationalize this. Maybe giving starving front line units rice prevented them from making raids across the DMZ to scavenge for food. After all, a solider with a full belly is more docile than a hungry one. Ok, ok, I’ll buy that logic.
Ok, then how about this June 2007 report about progressive lawmakers shelling out big bucks to the Pyongyang regime, the results of which were a growing sense of entitlement:
North Korea now thinks the fund belongs to it. North Korean negotiators reportedly hurl abuse at their South Korean counterparts whenever they sense even the slightest move by the South’s lawmakers to reduce the size of the fund. It has now degenerated into a trove of easy money, illicit money and wasted money.
Or, how about recent reports about aid sent to build a family reunion center mysteriously disappearing?
All this and what did the South get in return for unlimited, no-strings-attached donations? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the total amounts to absolutely nothing. Not even cooperation on the Six-Party talks. The North won’t even allow the Taegukki to fly over its stadium during next month’s World Cup qualifier. If that’s not a sign of a surefire policy failure, I don’t know what is. One would be hard pressed to say any future policy changes made by LMB are solely driven by political machinations.
The second part of this premise:
For the whole of its five years in office, it will be faced with the same difficulties the past two administrations have had for the past ten years.
The professor offers no evidence for this belief. Of course, to say that a change in policy will result is some sort of change in political situations is almost self evident. Why would new policy lead to the same difficulties of the past ten years? While it certainly could, there is no guarantee that it will.
As for the third part:
It might also have to watch its policy be denied by the administration that follows it.
There would be no reason for future administrations to reverse policy that works. Assuming Lee’s reciprocity policy works. And if it happens to be replaced by something better, then so what?
This leads to Professor Choe’s second premise:
Also, North Korea surely does not want to have serious discussion with a South Korea that changes its policy every five years.
Another fallacy by Professor Choe. I believe this qualifies as an “argument from final consequences.” It’s also unfounded. In a democratic society, periodic policy change is a fact of life. Not only that, but to attribute the North’s willingness to have a serious discussion solely to South Korean policy is absurd. There are a multitude of other factors– including U.S. policy, the policy of other regional states, aid inflows, the composition of the elites, the North’s food situation, the military situation, and so on—that influence the North’s decision to sit down and have a chat.
All in all, I don’t think Professor Choe’s conclusion flows naturally from his premises. Professor Choe uses the term “sustainable” to describe his take on North Korea policy, and I think the use of that word here is as empty and meaningless as when an environmentalist calls for “sustainable economic development.” When I hear a hippy call for the latter, my first reaction is “what exactly does that mean?” and I have the same reaction when reading the professor’s piece.