SOUTH KOREA: "SUNSHINE POLICY" AND ITS POLITICAL CONTEXT
CRS Report for Congress
South Korea: “Sunshine Policy” and
Its Political Context
Updated February 12, 2001
Foreign Affairs Analyst
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service The Library of Congress
South Korea: “Sunshine Policy” and
Its Political Context
Into his third year of rule, President Kim Dae Jung continues to receive high
ratings in polls, except for his handling of political matters. The political situation is
volatile and uncertain, with his ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) locked in
a partisan standoff with the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) led by Lee Hoi
Chang. President Kim also has a tenuous relationship with his former coalition
partner, the United Liberal Democrats (ULD). This fluid situation has complicated
domestic support for the President’s “sunshine policy”of engagement with North
Korea. U.S. policymakers, including many in Congress, have mixed views on the
efficacy of the engagement policy and have a strong interest in South Korean political
support for the policy and for President Kim.
The partisan strife is rooted in regionalism, a defining issue in South Korean
politics. From 1961 through 1997, power was associated with the southeastern
Kyongsang region; but under President Kim’s stewardship, it shifted to his political
stronghold—the southwestern Cholla region. Significantly, this shift also marked the
ascendency of a power elite with a liberal political outlook quite different from that
of the conservative establishment associated with the GNP. The opposition, with its
previously dominant parliamentary majority, has tried to regroup to regain its
strength. The ongoing partisan struggle has complicated President Kim’s effort to
attain bipartisan support on various issues, including economic reform and policy
toward North Korea.
President Kim has tried to engage Pyongyang in a more conciliatory and more
consistent manner than was the case with his predecessors. The June 2000 inter-
Korean summit seemed to vindicate this approach. Since 1998, President Kim has
espoused a “comprehensive” approach to meet Pyongyang’s economic, security, and
political concerns, with support from the United States and Japan. In return,
Pyongyang is to mend fences with the South and, equally important, to halt its nuclear
and missile programs. This approach is predicated on the provision of incentives to
Pyongyang by Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo; a solid allied united front in policy
coordination; and patience in dealing with Pyongyang’s penchant for contentiousness
and duplicity. The underlying rationale is that, in time, North Korea will moderate and
play by the rules of the international community. If the history of negotiations with
Pyongyang is any indication, the settlement of inter-Korean conflict seems certain to
be thorny, depending on, among other things, whether the goals and priorities of the
allied engagement policy can be consistent with North Korea’s.
Most Recent Developments........................................1
U.S. Interest in South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy”........................2
Quest for Political Stability........................................3
Background ................................................ 3
“Progressive” Power Elite.....................................8
Mt. Kumgang Tourism Project.................................18
Pyongyang and the Sunshine Policy.............................20
South Korean Domestic Reaction..............................22
U.S. Troops as “Peacekeepers”?...............................25
Coordination with the United States.............................25
Conclusions ................................................... 28
List of Figures
South Korean Provincial Boundaries.................................6
The author wishes to acknowledge first draft insights and suggestions shared by
several colleagues. They are William Cooper, Richard Cronin, Larry Niksch, Robert
Sutter, and Mark Sullivan.
South Korea: “Sunshine Policy” and Its
Most Recent Developments
On December 10, 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung received the
Nobel Peace Prize for “peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular” for
his role as the prime mover behind the “sunshine policy” of engagement with North
Korea. In an Oslo press conference, he reportedly expressed his wish to share the
prize with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, acknowledging that his prize was made
possible in part by the historic inter-Korean summit meeting he had with Kim Jong Il
in June 2000.
In February 2001, the engagement policy stayed on course, thanks to President
Kim’s determined effort to promote reconciliation and cooperation with the North.
This policy may shift to a more brisk pace in the months ahead as part of his resolve
to support North Korea’s effort to rebuild its crippled economy. Significantly, the
North’s effort was underscored by Kim Jong Il’s unannounced trip to China (January
15-20, 2001) for a first-hand view of Chinese-style economic reform. The trip was
highlighted by a four-day tour of Shanghai’s industrial sites and high-tech center that
has been flourishing with foreign investment and joint ventures. On January 17, the
tour prompted President Kim to opine that North Korea was definitely changing as
it seemed to be trying to become “a second China.” A few days later, he told his
cabinet to prepare measures needed to accommodate North Korea’s likely shift to a
At present, in Seoul, the most anticipated event in the inter-Korean relations is
Kim Jong Il’s promised visit to the South, rumored to be sometime between March
and June 2001. Speculation was that his second summit talk with President Kim may
reveal clues on how the North will embark on economic reform. Economic issues
are seen as likely to dominate the second inter-Korean summitry. According to South
Korean media, North Korea is said to be demanding political and economic “gifts”
from the South in exchange for Kim Jong Il’s visit to the South.
President Kim appears satisfied with his sunshine policy currently implemented
on the basis of so-called “flexible reciprocity,” which is mocked by critics as an aid-
first, benefits-later giveaway policy. The President seems convinced that his peace-
oriented, conciliatory approach will, in time, enable the North to address security
issues and to initiate an open-door policy. In any case, according to South Korean
media, the sunshine policy seems certain to face a challenge in the months ahead, as
South Koreans seem troubled by the North’s uncertain political and military
intentions. Equally troubling to them appears to be North Korea’s alleged penchant
for taking without giving something in return. Even as President Kim maintains that
South Korea benefitted more from the engagement and despite his optimistic
prognosis notwithstanding, critics continue to allege that his policy lacked three
critical conditions: reciprocity, transparency, and national consensus. In his New
Year press conference, President Kim vowed, “We will never extend aid to the North
without the consent of the people.”
On February 7, after a Washington meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell, South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Lee Joung-binn stated
that the Bush administration expressed its full support for South Korea’s policy of
engagement. In a joint statement issued on the same day, the two governments
agreed to “work to achieve a meeting between President Bush and Present Kim at the
earliest time.” This meeting seemed to help allay South Korea’s concern that the new
Bush administration might adopt a more conservative stance toward the North. South
Korea was reported to be worried that Washington’s likely hard-line approach could
conflict with and slow momentum on President Kim’s engagement policy. The Bush
administration’s North Korea policy was tentatively outlined at Powell’s Senate
confirmation hearing in January when he stated that the administration would move
ahead “without any sense of haste” in trying to normalize relations with North Korea.
He also said that the U.S. is open to “a continued process of engagement with the
North, so long as it addresses political, economic, and security concerns, is reciprocal
and does not come at the expense of our alliance relationships.”
U.S. Interest in South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy”
U.S. interests in South Korea involve a range of security, economic, political,
and North Korea policy issues. Of these, U.S. relations with the South Korean
political leadership, especially over North Korea issues, have strong implications for
U.S. security interests.1 For decades, the United States has supported South Korea’s
progress toward democratization. In this regard, the United States welcomed the
inauguration in February 1998 of civilian President Kim Dae Jung’s administration —
the second since 1993 — as another significant milestone in South Korea’s progress
toward mature democracy.
U.S. concern for President Kim’s policy toward North Korea has drawn a
renewed interest since 1998, as this represents a sharp break with the traditional
emphasis on reciprocity. The reversal of direction from the right to the left has
seemed to catch many in the South unprepared, leaving some confused and others
conflicted. This policy shift has been caught up in the partisan strife between
President Kim’s coalition government and the conservative opposition camp. Until
recently, the sunshine approach endured without a bipartisan show of consensus and
support. As a result, although the policy has been touted by the Kim administration
as the only promising alternative to war, there has seemed some tenuousness with
regard to the future of the engagement policy—beyond President Kim’s tenure in
office ending in February 2003.
1 For coverage of broader issues, see CRS Issue Brief 98045. Korea: U.S.-South Korean
Relations—Issues for Congress, by Larry A. Niksch. (Updated regularly).
If President Kim prevails, the United States might find itself more closely
associated with the sunshine policy. Since late 1998, the Kim administration has
urged the United States to adopt its own sunshine policy as the cornerstone of a new2
“comprehensive” U.S. policy toward the North. Frustrated with Pyongyang’s
coolness toward its engagement policy, the Kim administration has pleaded for what
amounts to a reinforcement from the United States.
From the U.S. perspective, the intent of the sunshine policy seems for the most
part compatible with its overriding security interest in a denuclearized Korean
peninsula. But there is a range of U.S. views about the appropriate means to use in
order to achieve this desired end. Thus, many U.S. policymakers and other observers
seemed to have mixed views on the efficacy of Kim’s “sunshine policy” and its
compatibility with U.S. policy on the Korean Peninsula.
Quest for Political Stability
Kim Dae Jung, the dissident voice of a generation of crusaders for democracy,
won the presidential election in December 1997 by a razor-thin margin.3 He defeated
Lee Hoi Chang of the center-right establishment that had dominated South Korean
politics for nearly 50 years. Kim’s success, on his fourth try, was a historic first for
South Korea’s perennial underdog—the opposition led by Kim.
Observers attribute this feat to several factors. The first was Kim Dae Jung’s
pre-election compact with conservative rival Kim Jong Pil, a former Prime Minister
under the military-dominated regime of President Park Chung Hee, whereby Kim Dae
Jung would have the constitution amended by the year 2000, if elected, in return for
Kim Jong Pil’s support for his candidacy. If amended, the constitution would allow
for the establishment of a parliamentary cabinet system to replace the existing
presidential system, presumably under the premiership of Kim Jong Pil (see Fragile
Coalition below). There is a consensus that this pact was crucial to President Kim as
2 Any new comprehensive policy will likely be based in part on a report prepared by William
J. Perry, former defense secretary who was named in November 1998 by President Clinton
to undertake a congressionally mandated interagency review of U.S. policy toward North
Korea. See the provision on North Korea in Omnibus Fiscal 1999 Appropriations, H.R. 4328
(P.L., 105-277), Congressional Record, No. 149, October 19, 1998, H11098. The
unclassified report entitled Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings
and Recommendations was released in conjunction with Perry’s testimony before the
Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
on October 12, 1999. For the full unclassified text, see U.S. Department of State,
International Information Programs/Washington File, 13 October 1999, Review of United
States Policy Toward North Korea.
3 In addition to information from printed sources in Korean, Japanese, and English, this report
relies on interviews and consultations with a number of South Koreans of varied backgrounds,
conducted in Seoul, Korea, in September 1998 and in October 1999; also useful were
consultations since then with a number of specialists on Korean affairs in Washington.
it was believed to have minimized a split in opposition votes.4 The second factor was
voters’ anger and disgust with economic mismanagement and money scandals under
the outgoing Kim Young Sam regime. The third was a split in votes for Lee Hoi
Chang as a result of factional leader Rhee In-je’s defection to seek the presidency for
himself. The fourth was allegations of draft-dodging by two sons of Lee Hoi Chang.
The fifth was a solid support for Kim Dae Jung from regional loyalists,
“progressives,” and labor union activists. Additionally, the absence of North Korean
provocations in the run-up to the election (which meant more votes for pro-
government candidates in the past) is believed to have helped Kim Dae Jung. These
factors seemed to have enabled him to surmount two disadvantages: his narrow
political base in the less populous, poorer, and the negatively stereotyped Cholla
region in the southwest and, as one source put it, “years of military propaganda that
portrayed him, unfairly, as soft on the Communist North.”5
The Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), newly adopted name for the center-
left National Congress for New Politics (NCNP) in January 2000, is the political arm
of President Kim, who ruled in coalition with Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil’s
conservative United Liberal Democrats (ULD). The two parties formed the cabinet,
with the MDP controlling more strategic portfolios. In the current setting, President
Kim’s command and control seem to extend to the entire governmental system
including the National Assembly (parliament) and even the independent judiciary.6
South Korea’s political parties–the weakest institutional link in the democratic
process–continue to be the personal vehicles of their leaders, created to advance the
interests of their leaders and regions. Principles and policies continue to matter little
as defining issues in partisan competition. A reflection of the personality-dominated
and regionalized nature of partisanship, parties are formed and disbanded at will7
depending on their leaders’ wishes. The current coalition parties are no exception.
As Kim Dae Jung’s MDP and Kim Jong Pil’s ULD are identified with the Cholla and
Chungchong regions, respectively, so is the opposition Lee Hoi Chang’s (GNP), with
the Kyongsang region (see Map. South Korean Provincial Boundaries, p.6).
4 “NCNP-ULD Coalition Sets Sail for Dec. Election,” The Korea Times, November 4, 1997,
p.2. On the first anniversary of his victory in December 1998, President Kim is reported to
have credited his triumph to the electoral coalition. Editorial: “Fate of Political Contract,” The
Korea Herald (Internet version), January 5, 1999.
5 Editorial: “Kim Dae Jung’s Triumph . . .,” Washington Post, December 21, 1997, C6.
6 Editorial: “Can the President Take Care of Everything?,” Dong-A Ilbo (Internet version) in
Korean, July 23, 1998; Paek Ki-ch’ol, “Cover Story – DJP’s Duel,” Hankyore 21 (Ch’ollian
Database version) in Korean, November 19, 1998.
7 Stone Mirror: “On Political Parties, Power, and Proportional Representation,” by David I.
Steinberg, The Korea Times (Internet version), March 1, 1999.
Political maneuvering for advantage and realignment consumed much of
President Kim’s first and second year in office.8 Holding a minority with 120
parliamentary members between them in the 299-seat National Assembly, the coalition
parties wasted no time in trying to bolster their ranks at the expense of the opposition
GNP that had a majority with 165 seats. This asymmetry was at the center of partisan
strife since the inception of the coalition. However, realignment did not come easily,
since South Korea’s political culture allowed little leeway for conciliation or
compromise. Another complication was the confusion coming from the suddenness
of reversed political fortunes—an unprecedented opposition takeover of presidential
power. Even as the ruling camp appealed for bipartisan collaboration, it seemed to
provoke the GNP by trying to undercut its parliamentary majority.
For its part, finding its familiar world turned upside down, the GNP seemed
unable to adjust to its new role as a loyal opposition. Indeed, within hours after Kim
Dae Jung was sworn in, the GNP blocked approval of Kim Jong Pil as the presidential
nominee for Prime Minister and denounced the ruling camp for targeting GNP9
members for actual or threatened prosecution on charges of corruption. The
coalition eventually secured a majority by “welcoming” GNP defectors. By May
1999, the hard-pressed GNP seemed to face a crisis of identity.10 If the ruling camp
has its way, more GNP members may break the ranks either to form a “new party”or11
to join the ruling camp. A beleaguered GNP may well have the consequence of
widening the gulf between the Cholla-centered Kim Dae Jung administration and the
largely Kyongsang-based GNP opposition.12
8 “Politics Lags Far Behind Economy in Reform,” The Korea Herald, December 25, 1998,
p.2; “Kim Gets Low Marks for Political Reform,” The Korea Times, December 31, 1998,
9 While rebuking the opposition for obstructing his plan for economic reforms by abusing its
majority status, President Kim stated, “the prosecution’s investigation is nothing more than
judicial procedures for criminal offenders.” Yonhap News Agency in English [Seoul], May
28, 1998. For his part, GNP leader Lee Hoi Chang offered a withering critique of the ruling
camp that he claimed was undermining democracy by trying to dismantle the opposition,
neutralize the legislature, tame the press, and use law enforcement authorities for partisan
purposes. The Korea Times (Internet version), September 10, 1998.
10 The crisis could be attributed to two possible factors: the GNP’s failure to define a coherent
policy agenda and a factional divide between the “mainstreamers” and “non-mainstreamers.”
“Rebirth of the GNP,” Chosun Ilbo (Internet version), August 5, 1998.
11 Indeed, in early March 2000, some dissenting GNP members formed a Democratic National
Party to contest the general elections on April 13, 2000. Hanguk Ilbo in Korean, February
12 Tension between the ruling and opposition camps reached a new height in May 1999, when
GNP’s Lee Hoi Chang announced an intention to launch a so-called “second pro-democracy
campaign” against the Kim administration’s alleged dictatorial pattern of governance. Yonhap
in English, May 6, 1999; The Korea Times (Internet version), May 6, 1999.
South Korean Provincial Boundaries
Wa n g q in g
TumenHunchunHuadianKorean PeninsulaNational Capital
Provincial CapitalInternational Boundary
Provincial BoundaryDemarcation Line
To n g h u a
Ji ' a n
K u a n d ia n
S e a
Demarcation Line andDemilitarized ZoneMt. KumgangChangjonof
J a p a n
Kangwon-doI nch'on Seo ul
ChonjuTaegu*The South Korean Province of Kyonggi is administered from Seoul.
Cholla Puk-to*The South Korean Province of Kyongsang-bukto is adminis-
Kyongsang Nam-do tered from Taegu.*The South Korean Province of Kyongsang-namdo is adminis- tered from Pusan.
PusanKwangjuCholla Nam-do*The South Korean City of Kwangju is an individual Province, and the administra-
tive Capital of Cholla-namdo Province.
Tsushi maChin- doHuksan-Chedo S h u sh i
Cheju- do S a se b oJapan
Adapted by CRS from Magellan Geographix. Used with permission.
For decades, regionalism has been the most potent force in South Korean
politics. Regional divisions defined partisan divisions and, more importantly, power
alignments. From 1961 through 1997, positions of power and influence in politics,
bureaucracy, the economy, and the military were disproportionately in the hands of
those who hailed from the city of Taegu in the northern Kyongsang
province—popularly dubbed “T-K mafia.” The T-K group tended to form the
backbone of the GNP (and its predecessors). In this period, the Cholla provinces
suffered from benign neglect, if for no other reason than that they happened to be the
political stronghold of Kim Dae Jung, the vocal opponent of the military-dominated
regimes under Park Chung Hee (1961-78), Chun Doo Hwan (1981-87), and Roh Tae
Woo (1988-1992). It was no accident that under these generals-turned-presidents,
who were all from Taegu, the Cholla region was left behind as an economic13
backwater. It has taken Kim Dae Jung’s presidency to begin to redress the regional
inequity—but not without an ironic twist.14 Regional favoritism has continued to
assert itself—now skewed to the Cholla and Chungchong regions under the control
of Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Pil, respectively, at the expense of the T-K/GNP15
dominated power structure.
Political stability is now believed to be a function of regional harmony. The two
are believed to be crucial to President Kim’s effort to extend the MDP’s narrow
power base from the Cholla region into the GNP’s stronghold in the Kyongsang
region. On February 1,1999, for example, he vowed to pursue stability through a
harmonious inter-regional realignment.16 If all goes as intended, this could go a long
way toward forging what might be called a grand alliance between the Cholla and
Kyongsang regions and, more importantly, to help the then-NCNP solidify its grip on
power. To that end, the party hinted at the possibility of enlisting support from the
two major components of the opposition: the “T-K” group and former President Kim17
Young Sam’s own group based in Pusan and the southern Kyongsang province. If
realized, the regrouping may lead to the establishment of a so-called “super-party” to
set the stage for a new mandate at the April 2000 general elections. President Kim
13 As a result, a bulk of the Cholla work force had to migrate to the Seoul metropolitan region
for employment, eventually to emerge as a major voting bloc for Kim Dae Jung outside of the
Cholla region. (CRS interviews)
14 “Kim Accused of Perpetuating Regionalism,” The Korea Herald, March 31, 1998, p.2.
15 For a case that regionalism reflects the personalization of power, see David I. Steinberg,
“Continuing Democratic Reform in the Republic of Korea: Issues and Challenges,” a paper
delivered before a Korea University conference, Seoul, June 19-20, 1996, p.14.
16 The Korea Times (Internet version), February 1, 1999.
17 Chosun Ilbo (Internet version), May 21, 1998; Dong-A Ilbo (Internet version), January
and JoongAng (Internet Service), January 28, 1999.
Dae Jung sounded hopeful that his party could, by mid-2000, gain a broad national
constituency under his initiative for intra-South Korean east-west reconciliation.
Inter-regional harmony proved to be elusive as ever, however. The April 2000
election, perceived to be a mid-term referendum on President Kim’s leadership, was
won by the GNP. As expected, regionalism was the decisive factor in the electoral
outcome.18 The dramatic news of an inter-Korean summit to take place in June 2000,
announced in Seoul and Pyongyang several days before the election, was widely
regarded as the clincher for victory by President Kim’s party. However, this news and
the related unification issue seemed to have had little impact on the electorate.19
“Progressive” Power Elite
Kim’s presidency also marks a significant departure from the past by ushering
in a new, post-Korean War generation of power elite—veterans of political activism
against the military-dominated, authoritarian rule in the 1970s and 1980s.20 Mostly
in their forties, the new elite now occupies strategic positions of power and influence
in government and in the broadcasting and print media as well.21 Iconoclastic,
nationalistic, and closely identified with President Kim’s reformist stance, the new
group has been characterized as embracing a so-called progressive vision of a new
Korea, manifest in what was to evolve into an ambitious agenda for a “Rebuilding
Korea Movement.”22 The elite, which appears steeped in a liberal political activism
18 For a preview that parties will exploit regionalism while publicly disavowing it for voter
support, see Hanguk Ilbo in Korea, January 8, 2000.
19 The outcome of the election showed the GNP winning 133 seats of the total 273 National
Assembly seats as compared to the MDP’s 115 seats. The latter’s coalition partner, the ULD,
suffered a major defeat, as it returned only 17 members out of the pre-election strength of 50.
Several independents captured the balance of the total. “Opposition GNP Remains Largest
Party at Assembly,” The Korea Times in English (Internet version), April 14, 2000.
20 A significant milestone in that activism was a massive pro-democracy, civil uprising in
1980, in the southern Cholla provincial capital of Kwangju; a collateral consequence of the
event was to mark the beginning of anti-American sentiments among South Korean students
and youths because of their perception of the U.S. military complicity in the bloody South
Korean military suppression of the uprisings. For an extensive report on alleged U.S.
complicity, see The U.S. Role in Korea in 1979 and 1980, by Tim Shorrock:
21 “History of Regionalism,” The Korea Times, March 13, 1998, p.2; “Korea Undergoes
‘Revolutionary’ Changes with Reform Regime,” The Korea Herald, December 22, 1998, p.2.
22 Enunciated by President Kim in August 1998, this government-initiated grass-roots
movement, with civic groups reportedly playing a leading role, seeks major changes in the
political, economic, and social sectors (President Kim’s “sunshine policy” toward North
Korea is listed as part of the reforms envisaged in this movement). Facing opposition
suspicions of ulterior motives behind the movement, President Kim, on February 3, 1999, was
quoted as saying unequivocally that he had no intention of using the movement as a tool for
gaining partisan advantage. Chongwadae [The Blue House] WWW in English (Internet
version), February 3, 1999; Presidential Commission for Policy Planning. Second Nation-
Building: Direction of Grand Transformation and Reform [in Korean]. Seoul: October 1998.
of the 1980s, views a range of social, ideological, and political issues from a
“progressive” perspective of the post-Cold War era.23 Generally, these progressives
(including some left-of-center activists) tend to regard conservatives as obstacles to24
domestic reform or change. Some also seem to scoff at conservatives at home and
abroad, dubbed as “archaic security-mongers,” as doing “more harm than good” in
the Kim administration’s quest for ending the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.25
Implicit in their thinking seems to be the notion that Seoul’s effort to win the26
confidence of Pyongyang may be frustrated unless hawkish sentiment is moderated.
The progressive tendency is regarded as inevitable by many, since the post-
Korean War generation—now accounting for some 70 percent of the South Korean
electorate—is more attuned to pluralistic and less to ideological tendencies than the
older generation. The potential political significance of this new demographic reality
is not lost on the conservative ULD as well as the GNP. The latter, in particular, is
reportedly contemplating a move away from its “deep-seated conservatism” in a bid27
to address the socioeconomic concerns of the middle class and underprivileged.
60 p.; “Kim Guarantees Politics-Free 2nd Nation Building Reform,” The Korea Herald
(Internet version), September 28, 1998.
23 On North Korea, for instance, South Korea’s “young intellectuals” are said to be more
concerned about how not to offend Pyongyang, apparently in the belief that “criticism of the
North” is contrary to the spirit of progressivism. Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in English,
March 11, 1999.
24 In September 1998, Professor Choi Jang-jip, then-Chairman of the Presidential Commission
for Policy Planning, reportedly said at an NCNP forum that the party should break with the
conservative ULD in favor of collaboration with the progressive wing of the “P-K” (for Pusan
and the southern Kyongsang province) group under former President Kim Young Sam.
Chosun Ilbo, September 16, 1998. For Choi’s plea that South Koreans need to “adapt
thinking to the transitional changes of the post-Cold War era,” see Chosun Ilbo (Internet
version) in English, January 18, 1999 (Choi resigned from his post reportedly under pressure
from the Blue House, April 1, 1999). Of interest to the United States, prior to 1997, rarely
did South Korean intellectuals publicly reveal themselves as “leftists”; this seems to be no
longer the case today. For a recent discussion on the leftwing political phenomenon in South
Korea, see Ho Yong-pom, “Leftists Have Declared Themselves,” Wolgan Chosun [Seoul],
December 1998, pp. 158-180, available on Internet in English translation by Foreign
Broadcast Information Service (Document ID: FTS19981222000800).
25 Editorial: “Archaic Security-Mongers,” The Korea Times (Internet version), April 11,
1999; this editorial asserted, “Defiance of hard core conservative political forces” to the
sunshine policy will be counterproductive, “if not betrayal to the wishes of our forefathers for
unification.”; Taehan Maeil (Internet version) in Korean, December 8, 1998. Editorial: “Kim
Dae Jung Courts North Korea,” New York Times, June 3, 1998, A28; Nicholas D. Kristof,
“Seoul Leader Asks End to Sanctions on North Koreans,” New York Times, June 2, 1998, A8;
Tokyo Shimbun in Japanese, February 11, 1999, morning edition, p.3; Chosun Ilbo (Internet
version) in Korean, March 8, 1999.
26 The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, December 8, 1998.
27 The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, April 14, 1999.
In any event, to this new generation, unresolved issues of the Cold War as they
relate to inter-Korean relations appear to have much less real-life relevance.
Observers suggest that the conventional assumptions about North Korea, the origins
of the Korean War, and the rationale for the current and future U.S. military presence
in South Korea can no longer be taken for granted. A case in point appears to be a
sentiment among some South Korean progressives that Pyongyang’s reported shift
in its policy on U.S. military presence in the South can be construed as a “sign” of the
North’s positive response to the sunshine policy. The apparent policy shift was
reportedly about redefining the status of U.S. forces to a peacekeeping role (see U.S.
Troops As Peacekeepers? below).28 Increasingly, progressive thinkers (now identified
with some of the leaders of “citizens groups” that have mushroomed in recent months
with tacit government support) seem to embrace the notion that South Koreans’
conventional security assumptions should be reexamined to see whether their reliance
on U.S. military deterrence enhances or hampers South Korea’s chances for
accommodation with North Korea.29
Through April 2000, perhaps the most worrisome situation in South Korean
politics was the uncertainty President Kim faced over the future of his partnership
with the ULD’s Kim Jong Pil.30 At issue was the President’s 1997 pre-election pledge
that, if elected, he would push to accommodate the latter’s demand for a
constitutional amendment to make for a cabinet system accountable to the National
Assembly.31 Despite the ULD’s effort to nudge the President to honor his pre-election
pledge,32 the ruling party seemed deliberately ambiguous about the 1997 pledge, even
28 Editorial: “Archaic Security-Mongers,” The Korea Times (Internet version) in English,
April 11, 1999.
29 The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, November 21, 1998; Yonhap, December 9,
1998; “U.S. Remains Idle Despite Kim’s Initiative,” The Korea Times (Internet version) in
English, December 10, 1998.
30 Apart from the ongoing feud over the so-called “cabinet issue,” the ULD voiced a dissenting
view of President Kim’s “sunshine policy” as unduly leaning toward “carrots” at the expense
of “reciprocity”; it also takes issue with what has been characterized as the ideological
softness of some of President Kim’s inner circle people. The Korea Times (Internet version),
November 15, 1998; Hankyore 21 (Ch’ollian Database version) in Korean, November 19,
“ULD’s Yi Tong-pok [Lee Dong-bok] Views ROK’s DPRK Policy,” Wolgan Chosun in
Korean, January 1999, pp.62-73, in English translation by Foreign Broadcast Information
Service (Document ID:FTS19990214000238). For a report that the two parties did not have
a regular policy cooperation forum for the first six months of the coalition rule, see The Korea
Herald (Internet version), September 14, 1998.
31 This commitment as phrased in the pre-election coalition pact, November 3, 1997, is taken
to mean “a public pledge before the nation.” As cited in Chosun Ilbo (Internet version),
January 19, 1999.
32 An ULD lawmaker argued that, absent a joint ULD-NCNP effort to address the issue by
the end of March 1999, ULD cabinet ministers would have no alternative but to withdraw
though the South Korean economy continued to rebound from its post-1997 financial
crisis, which was the initial reason for putting the cabinet system issue on hold until
after economic recovery. For years, Kim Jong Pil favored a cabinet system as a
realistic solution to South Korea’s two chronic political problems: 1) the deterioration
of a presidential system into a virtual dictatorship; and 2) power alignment pivoting
on the regional identity of a sitting President.33 He argued that a an equitable regional
power-sharing through a cabinet formula could remedy those problems. Kim Jong Pil
may have also hoped that a new cabinet system would boost his personal power.
Observers view the cabinet system issue as problematic for several reasons. First,
were Kim Dae Jung to yield to Kim Jong Pil’s pressure, he would have to share much
of his power with the newly empowered cabinet (probably under Kim Jong Pil).
Second, the GNP continues to support the existing presidential system, virtually ruling
out a two-thirds majority needed for any constitutional amendment. Third, President
Kim’s more pressing priority is to continue policies to promote recovery from the
economic crisis and to pursue his hoped-for summit with North Korean leader Kim
Jong Il. Fourth, political reconciliation with the opposition GNP looms as another
presidential priority, given the need to secure the GNP support for the President’s
“sunshine policy.” Currently, the thaw with North Korea is a front-burner issue for34
President Kim. If North Korea continues to respond in good faith to President
Kim’s engagement policy, a majority of South Koreans will more likely hold that
dialogue with monolithic Pyongyang can be better handled under the existing
In any event, the coalition began to unravel in late December 1999 so that on
January 20, 2000, President Kim’s new Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) was
launched without any reference to his pre-1997 pledge. By February 24, the ULD’s
acting leader Lee Han Dong publicly hinted at a split from the MDP, and the ULD
campaigned for the April 2000 election, vowing “no-more-collaboration” with the
ruling party.”35 On May 22, 2000, Lee Han Dong accepted President Kim’s invitation
from the coalition cabinet. Hankyore (Internet version) in Korean, March 3, 1999. (Actually,
the ULD withdrew from the coalition in February 2000).
33 News in Review: “Imperial Presidency—Korean Tradition,” The Korea Times (Internet
version), April 21, 1999.
34 “Seoul Preparing for S-N Summit: Kim,” The Korea Times (Internet version), March 3,
1999. A GNP party memorandum submitted to the GNP leadership reportedly claimed
—without offering proof—that the Kim administration’s push for inter-Korean dialogue was
designed, inter alia, to put to rest the notion of the constitutional amendment; the report also
claimed that the Kim administration’s goal was to realize an inter-Korean summit meeting on
August 15, 1999. Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in Korean, February 19, 1999.
35 Hanguk Ilbo in Korean, January 22, February 25, 2000. Kim Jong Pil was reported as
saying that President Kim was “reneging on a commitment to amend the constitution.”
Reuters, May 23, 2000.
to be his new nominee for prime minister, signaling a virtual revival of the erstwhile
The policy of engagement with North Korea, popularly known as the “sunshine
policy,” was unveiled informally on December 19, 1997, the day after Kim Dae Jung37
won the presidency, suggesting that he came “prepared” to tackle the issue.
President Kim made it official in his inaugural address, on February 25, 1998. The
policy has since been fleshed out to make it more receptive to skeptical Pyongyang
and adjustable to situational needs.38 In the closing months of 1998, expanding on this
policy, the Kim administration began to advocate a more inclusive approach, one
conditioned on reinforcement from the United States (see Coordination with the
United States) below.39
The sunshine policy, South Korean observers judge, is the personification of Kim
Dae Jung who is believed to be its principal architect as well as hands-on overseer.40
36 Reuters, May 23, 2000. When he split from the opposition GNP in January 2000, Lee Han
Dong was a vice president of the opposition GNP and ally of GNP leader Lee Hoi Chang.
37 “Kim DJ Espouses Sunshine Policy Toward North Korea: Clinton Asked to Arrange S-N
Summit,” The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, December 19, 1997.
38 For the Kim administration’s perspectives , see Hong Soon-young, “Thawing Korea’s Cold
War: The Path to Peace on the Korean Peninsula, Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999; The
Korea Herald (Internet version) in English, March 18, 1998; Lim Dong-Won, “‘Sunshine
Policy’ and a New Era in Inter-Korean Relations” (April 24, 1998, The Shilla Hotel), 5 p;
“Major Points of Secretary Yim Tong-won’s Address: ‘Dismantling Cold War Structure in
Korea to Lead to Virtual Reunification’,” Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in Korean, February
Theoretical Underpinnings and Policy Directions (a paper prepared for the Conference on
the United States and the Two Koreas at the Crossroads: Searching for a New Passage, Seoul,
March 26-27, 1999, 12 p.; Park Sang-seek, The Sunshine Policy: Why Should We Pursue It?
(a paper prepared for the Conference on the United States and the Two Koreas at the
Crossroads: Searching for a New Passage, Seoul, March 26-27, 1999, 10 p.; Ch’oe Song,
“‘Government of the People’: Principles and Direction of North Korea Engagement Policy,”
in T’ong’il Kyongje in Korean, August 1998, pp 10-24; National Security Policy Institute,
The Sunshine Policy: A Bridge Linking the North and South in Korean, Seoul (no date), 48
p.; North Korea/Unification Policy of the ‘Government of the People’ in Korean, Issue Brief
148, May 14, 1998, by Lee Seung Hyun, Legislative Research and Analysis Service, National
Assembly Library, Seoul, 11 p.
39 Taehan Maeil (Internet version) in Korean, November 15, 1998.
40 Editorial: “Active Policy Toward Pyongyang,” The Korea Herald, March 6, 1998, p.6;
Emphasizing the need for scrupulous scrutiny of what it describes as the Kim
Administration’s policy of “aggressive and even hasty rapprochement,” this editorial argues:
It is rooted in Kim’s belief that avoiding war is his overriding priority and that,
figuratively, honey works better than vinegar in trying to entice the North to moderate
and change. It seems also to reflect his conviction that South Korea must take the41
lead in trying to initiate steps for the settlement of inter-Korean issues. The
philosophical underpinning of the policy runs deep, as the sunshine policy is believed
by many to be the culmination of an evolutionary process in the making since the early
The sunshine policy is in a stark contrast to the containment- and reciprocity-
oriented policy pursued by the Kim Young Sam administration. Its objective, as one
writer put it, is to use sunshine to enable North Korea to voluntarily remove its ‘coat’43
of isolation and hostility and give up its vision of ‘liberating’ the South.” In setting
the basic tone of his policy, President Kim vowed that while his administration would
actively seek reconciliation and cooperation with the North, and forswear any attempt
to harm or absorb the North, it would not tolerate armed provocation of any kind by
the North. To expedite reconciliation, he also promised to encourage the South’s
private-sector to explore and capitalize on economic opportunities in the North
without government intervention. However, major projects requiring public funding
are to be premised on inter-government dialogue and reciprocity.
It seems that several assumptions underpin the sunshine policy. First is President
Kim’s overarching notion that there is an emergent need to help ease beleaguered
Pyongyang’s concerns about domestic and external uncertainties, which might cause
the North to lash out in desperation. Second, in such a scenario, North Korea’s
formidable fire power positioned on the other side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ)
could decimate the Seoul metropolitan region—home to 19 million people or 43
percent of the national total (1990 census), 46 percent (1994) of South Korea’s gross
regional domestic product, and the nation’s major financial, educational, and cultural
centers.44 Third, peace and stability are essential to Seoul’s effort to attract foreign
“Rightly or not ... [the] present inter-Korean policy matters are formulated and implemented
following the dictation of one man, the President.”
41 He was quoted as saying in June 1998, “for the first time in 50 years,” the South took the
initiative in implementing a policy toward the North.” The Korea Times, June 25, 1998, p.2;
“Kim Calls for Resumption of S-N Dialogue,” The Korea Times (Internet version) in English,
January 4, 1999.
42 Choi Song, “‘Government of the People’: Principles and Direction of the Engagement Policy
Toward North Korea,” T’ong’il Kyongje, August 1998,p.13; he writes that the basic direction
and specific contents of the current engagement policy were actually set forth in a University
of London speech in August 1993.
43 Yang Young-shik, “Kim Dae-jung Administration’s North Korea Policy,” Korea Focus in
English, November-December 1998, p.51. The writer is the head of the government-funded
think-tank, the Korean Institute of National Unification.
44 “Hardline Posture of U.S. Congress on NK Worrisome,” The Korea Times (Internet
version), October 14, 1998; The Korea Times (Internet version), December 8, 1998; The
Korea Herald, June 21, 1996. As of 1990, Seoul alone had nearly a quarter of the national
investment and revive its economy. Fourth, a stable coexistence would enable the
North to creatively adjust to the emerging situation without fear of being unraveled.
Lastly, the Cold War-derived culture of confrontation would gradually dissipate to
minimize the chances of renewed hostilities in Korea.
President Kim initially seemed hopeful that the two Koreas could achieve a
significant breakthrough if they first revisited the historic inter-Korean Agreement on
Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation that formally went
into effect in February 1992 but since has remained on the shelf. He proposed an
activation of the 1992 accord, an exchange of special envoys, a possible summit
meeting,45 reunion of separated families, and cultural and academic exchanges. His
overtures also included an offer to provide generous food aid, assistance for
agricultural reform, economic cooperation including investment in the Najin/Sonbong
area, and continued cooperation in KEDO’s (Korean Peninsula Energy Development
Organization) lightwater nuclear reactor project. In addition, he promised to address
unspecified “other factors of imbalances between the two Koreas.” Underscored were
two key points: one was that the process of engaging the North should be crafted to
minimize the confrontational atmospherics of the past through a gentler and kinder
approach.46 The other was that this process should, in the near-term, aim for
neighborly coexistence rather than the potentially convulsive end result of unification.
At the same time, the President seemed realistic about the attendant difficulty in trying
to mend the fences with North Korea, counseling patience and steadiness in dealing
with wary Pyongyang. He was particularly emphatic about the need for a robust47
deterrence against North Korean provocations. Pyongyang would respond in time
to his sunshine policy in order to ensure its survival, he judged.
Below are examined important developments and influences on South Korea’s
recent sunshine policy toward North Korea.
The first critical test of the sunshine policy was reciprocity, the Kim
administration’s guiding principle for inter-Korean cooperation. This came in April
total of 43 million; the metropolitan region includes Inchon and the surrounding Kyonggi
province. Korea Yearbook, 1995, p.547. For a “horribly destructive” scenario in a war on
the Korean Peninsula, see Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New
Security Strategy for America, Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 1999, p.218.
45 Reportedly, President-elect Kim disclosed that he had earlier asked President Bill Clinton
to help arrange an inter-Korean summit meeting. The Korea Times (Internet version) in
English, December 19, 1997.
46 Shim Jae Hoon, “Spring Thaw?,” Far Eastern Economic Review, June 11, 1998, pp.30-31.
47 The Korea Times (Internet version) in English (November 21, 1998) affirms the President’s
position by observing that the hawkish approach of the past will no longer best serve Seoul’s
“security and other national interests”; it also observes that the formerly unpopular “dovish”
strategy is “the proper approach” in the present circumstances.
for the first time since June 1994. The meeting’s outcome was not what the South
might have anticipated. Seoul’s apparent intention was to negotiate a reciprocal deal
whereby it would send 200,000 tons of fertilizer to the North in return for the latter’s
agreeing to discuss the longstanding issue of reuniting separated families. But
Pyongyang seemed interested only in the fertilizer delivery, turning aside Seoul’s
proposition that inter-government-level cooperation should be conditioned on the
principle of reciprocity.48 No deal was struck as Pyongyang ridiculed Seoul’s
“reciprocity” as a “logic” better suited for horse-trading than for collaboration
between the two halves of the same nation. Pyongyang claimed that reciprocity was
a norm applicable only in relations among sovereign nations but not between fellow
countrymen. It then tried to take the moral high ground by chiding the Kim49
administration for treating an humanitarian issue as part of its mercantile pursuits.
For emphasis, Pyongyang reiterated, “We, being a sovereign country, cannot
exchange our sovereignty for fertilizer. We can live without fertilizer but cannot live
Unfazed, a senior Blue House official stated: “Dialogue between the authorities
will be based on reciprocity...No forcing, no begging and quid pro quo will be our
policy.”51 By year-end, however, because of Pyongyang’s disdain for mutuality, the
Kim administration may have realized that reciprocity as originally intended might be
abandoned. Cabinet ministers began to publicly hint at the need for “flexible
reciprocity,” with a renewed emphasis on the need for patience and an altruistic
demonstration of sincerity in approaching the North. On December 26, 1998, for
example, Foreign Minister Hong Soon-young was reported to have second-guessed
“the mechanical application of the principle of reciprocity.”52
48 At the time of his state visit to Washington in June 1998, President Kim reportedly asked
for U.S. help so that his administration’s principle of reciprocity could be put into effect in
North-South Korean relations. The Political and Economic Significance of the Presidential
Visit), Special Issue Brief 153, June 18, 1998, Office of Legislative Research and Analysis,
National Assembly Library, p.10.
49 “S. Korean Authorities Responsible for Deadlocked Inter-Korean Talks,” [North] Korean
Central News Agency (KCNA) in English, April 24, 1998. To get a North Korean perspective
on inter-Korean relations in general—and the sunshine policy in particular, it will be useful
to note that North Korea defined the 1992 inter-Korean agreement on reconciliation,
nonaggression, and exchanges and cooperation as an intra-Korean document and not an
international treaty as suggested by President Kim Dae Jung. See Commentator: “Mutualism
Cannot Be Applied in North-South Relations,” Nodong Sinmun [Pyongyang’s Ruling Party
daily organ], May 23, 1998, available in a translated text by Foreign Broadcast Information
Service, Document ID: FTS19980525000044; for President-elect Kim’s view, Chosun Ilbo
(Internet version) in Korean, December 19, 1997.
50 As cited in Hankyore 21 (Ch’ollian Database version) in Korean, February 11, 1999.
51 “Sunshine Policy and a New Era in Inter-Korean Relations,” Remarks by Ambassador
Lim Dong-Won, Senior Secretary to the President for Foreign Policy and National Security
(April 24, 1998, The Shilla Hotel).
52 News Plus (Internet version) in Korean, January 7, 1999; Hankyore (Internet version) in
Korean, January 4, 1999.
Media commentators were quick to characterize the Kim administration’s
flexibility as a “retreat,” if not “a desperate attempt” to draw Pyongyang into
negotiations.53 Further, the administration’s purported offer, reported on January 14,
1999, to provide 500,000 tons (worth $100 million) of fertilizer to the North free of
charge — conditioned only on a “formal” request for fertilizer — seemed likely to
reinforce such a characterization.54 More to the point, the appearance of unilateral
concessions without North Korean reciprocation may have fueled speculation that the
Kim administration was bent on engagement at any cost and that Pyongyang might
become even more “arrogant” toward the South. Some observers viewed as unwise
the Kim administration’s reported shift to a flexible policy of aiding the North
first—and waiting patiently for signs of favorable response from the North.55 In a
public lecture on April 28, 1999, Foreign Minister Hong seemed to confirm the shift,
stating that the sunshine policy seeks to provide “political, economic, and social
favors” to the North not in a “one-sided way” but to receive “rewards from the North
sometime in the future.” He hastened to add that, for now at least, there would be56
more emphasis on “giving.”
In early 1999, the Kim administration was rebuffed again over reciprocity — in
this instance, about an humanitarian issue. President Kim sought to exchange 17 ex-
North Korean agents freed from prisons in the South for several hundred South
Koreans believed to be in unacknowledged detention in North Korea. The South
Korean Red Cross appealed for international cooperation in securing the release of
these detainees, in addition to 231 South Korean prisoners of war believed to be inth
the North. The Kim administration, in April 1999, broached the issue at the 55
session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Pyongyang rejected the
“exchange” proposal as “unjustifiable both from the humanitarian point of view and
in light of international law,”claiming that if there were indeed such South Koreans
in the North, they came over to the North or joined the North Korean army on their
own volition and that, if any case, they live “happily as [North Korean] citizens,” with
no desire to return to the South.57
53 Editorial: “Change in Mutualism Toward North Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo (Internet version)
in Korean, January 13, 1999; Editorial: “Modification of North Korea Policy,” The Korea
Times (Internet version) in English, January 11, 1999; Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in
Korean, January 5, 1999; and The Korea Herald (Internet version) in English, January 4,
1999; Editorial: “Hastiness Should Be Avoided in North Korea Policy,” Dong-a Ilbo (Internet
version) in Korean, February 18, 1999.
54 The amount of fertilizer was the same as the North had requested in April 1998. Seoul’s
offer was viewed by one source as “a sharp setback in South Korean government’s stand.”
See Hankyore 21(Ch’ollian Database version) in Korean, February 11, 1999; also “Seoul
To Provide 500,000 Tons of Fertilizer to North, Kang Says,” The Korea Herald (Internet
version), January 15, 1999.
55 Dong-A Ilbo (Internet version) in Korean, February 17, 1999; Chosun Ilbo (Internet
version), February 17, 1999.
56 Yonhap in English, April 28, 1999.
57 KCNA in English, March 25, 1999; see also “Not a Single ‘ROK Army Prisoner of
War’ Or ‘Person Abducted by the North’ Is In The Republic,” Nodong Sinmun in
The Kim administration has stayed the “sunshine” course despite provocations
by North Korea, maintaining that its policy would be different from that of the
previous government, which it characterized as “reactive and inconsistent.” If the
administration’s reaction to the four instances of North Korean provocations between
June and December 1998 is any clue, consistency may well remain an operative norm.
Amid domestic criticism in June 1998, the Kim administration played down a reported
North Korean submarine intrusion into the South Korean waters, possibly to minimize
a hardline reaction that could derail the sunshine policy.58 In July 1998, facing
intensified public criticism in the wake of a new North Korean infiltration of spies into
the South, President Kim was reported as saying that he would press the North “very
hard” to obtain a promise not to repeat similar provocations. His administration also
revealed its intention to put on hold some aid and economic cooperation programs,
pending Pyongyang’s apology, but then decided to forgo the intended step for the
sake of consistency.59
Pyongyang denied the infiltration charges, blaming Seoul’s “ultra-rightists” for
staging the incident as part of a plot to embarrass the North. In the end, President Kim
vowed to stick to the engagement policy, not swayed by each and every instance of
such provocation. This was affirmed on August 15, 1998, when the President
extended an olive branch, proposing the establishment of “a standing dialogue
mechanism” and expressing the readiness to send his envoy to Pyongyang to discuss
a range of inter-Korean issues. He also stated that the Mt. Kumgang tour project
would proceed as planned (see Mt. Kumgang Tourism Project below).60
Consistency seemed also to have weathered new uncertainties on the heels of
two developments in August 1998: the discovery of a suspect underground nuclear
complex at Kumchang-ni, 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang; and a Taepodong-I
three-stage ballistic missile launch through Japanese airspace. In a speech before the
UN General Assembly in September, South Korean Foreign Minister Hong stated that
although his government “deplores these acts of provocation” as a serious threat to
the South, the sunshine policy would remain so that the two Koreas could in time
Korean, April 2, 1999, p.5. The Korea Herald, October 12, 1998, p.3; Editorial: “Let
the Captives Come Home,” The Korea Herald (Internet version), March 15, 1999.
58 The President reportedly stated,”If we change our position at the whims of the times and
situation, we might face internal and external criticism and such a capricious change of mind
will be of benefit only to the North. This way our policy is not confusing.” “Policy on NK Not
Wavering: Kim,” The Korea Times, July 25, 1998, p.2.
59 “Seoul Demands N.K. Apology, Curbs Aid, Economic Relations,” The Korea Herald, July
“ROK to Keep Peace Bid Despite NK Provocations,” The Korea Times, September 28, 1998,
60 “Kim Renews Sunshine Offer Despite Tension,” Reuters. August 16, 1998; “‘Sunshine
Policy’ Delivers Positive Results,” The Korea Herald, August 15, 1998, p.19.
“enjoy the benefits of peaceful coexistence.”61 Critics argued, however, that the Kim
administration seemed to make light of the security implications of the nuclear and
missile issues, portending a potential policy coordination problem with the United
States and Japan, both of whom viewed North Korean behavior with grave concern.
The critics seemed perturbed by the Kim administration’s alleged stance that the
issues in question had more to do with the security interest of United States and Japan
than with that of South Korea.62
In its defense of the sunshine policy, the Kim administration began to underline
three major notions: 1) South Koreans and outsiders alike need to be patient and to
think “long-term” in dealing with the North; 2) one should try to visualize,
figuratively, the big picture of a “forest” (i.e., North-South Korean reconciliation)
rather than be distracted by isolated “trees” (i.e., instances of provocative North
Korean behavior) in relations between the two Koreas;63 and 3) there is an urgent
new need for a “comprehensive” policy to deal with “all pending problems” related
to the North (see Coordination with the United States below).
Mt. Kumgang Tourism Project
Hyundai’s Mt. Kumgang tour project is officially touted as the first tangible
result of President Kim’s sunshine policy. Premised on the separation of private-sector
cooperation from that of public-sector endeavor, this project was supported despite
North Korean provocations between June and August 1998. Approved by the
leadership of both North and South Korea, it was launched in November 1998 by
Hyundai business group as part of a 30-year plan to develop a tourist/resort complex
at Mt. Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast some 13 miles north of the DMZ (see64
Map. South Korean Provincial Boundaries). In return for its “exclusive rights” to
the tour project, Hyundai is obligated to pay $942 million to the North in monthly
installments over a span of six years and three months, without any strings
attached—a controversial arrangement because of its potential monetary diversion to
61 “ROK to Keep Peace Bid Despite NK Provocations,” The Korea Times, September 28,
62 Hankyore (Internet version) in Korean, September 1, 1998. At National Assembly
deliberations, opposition representatives reportedly argued that the Kim administration was
trying to minimize the importance of Pyongyang’s suspected underground nuclear facility in
a bid to sustain the sunshine policy; The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, November
20, 1998. In this regard, possibly reacting to Seoul’s stance on the underground nuclear
facility, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen reportedly requested, on his visit to Seoul in
mid-January 1999, a more proactive diplomatic effort by South Korea to persuade the North
to open the underground facility to outside inspection. Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in
Korean, January 15, 1999. (North Korea opened the facility to U.S. inspectors in May 1999
and again in May 2000).
63 Editorial: “DJ’s Resolve to End Cold War,” JoongAng Ilbo (Internet version), February 12,
1999; the forest-tree metaphor is attributed to Lim Dong-Won, The Korea Times, February
64 The Korea Times, November 2, 1998, p.2. One potential complication was North Korea’s
unexplained refusal to comply with Hyundai’s request for an agreement in writing.
the North Korean military.65 Relatedly, Hyundai is reported to have discussed other
possible projects with North Korean paramount leader Kim Jong Il. Among these
projects are: offshore oil exploration, a 100,000 KW thermal power plant in
Pyongyang, and an industrial complex on North Korea’s west coast near Haeju. As
planned, the Hyundai group reportedly stands to earn as much as $3.7 billion from the
Mt. Kumgang project alone on an initial investment of nearly $1 billion.66 Not to be
outdone, Hyundai’s rivals — Daewoo and Samsung — sought to establish their own
bases in the North but reportedly dropped the idea, for now at least, given
Pyongyang’s demand that they follow Hyundai’s “precedent.”
According to one analysis, the Mt. Kumgang tour project is potentially a “good
business” investment in the long term, contingent on a substantially improved inter-
Korean environment. For the near term, observers are said to be “skeptical” about the
rationality of the project since the project is “expected” to run a deficit of up to $127
million per year, unless a land route can be opened across the DMZ to the tour sites67
to save on the daily cost of ship leasing and crew wages amounting to $100,000.
Many seemed nonplused by the question over how Hyundai could continue the deficit
tour project, given its ongoing “severe financial problems” since 1997.68
In any event, for the cash-starved and politically wary North, the Mt. Kumgang
project seems to typify a risk-free way to “open up” to the outside world for earning
hard currency—virtually at no cost to itself.69 For one thing, it would potentially
allow the North to extract benefits from the South essentially on its own terms.70 For
another, the North would be able to shield its local population from coming into
contact with South Koreans under a strict code of discipline. Visitors would not be
allowed to stray off tour routes or to talk to or fraternize with locals on pain of
punishment by a fine. To ensure local isolation, the 6.2 mile-road from a makeshift
dock at Changjon to the mountain tour sites is still fenced with 8-feet high barbed
65 For details, see Ministry of Unification. Kim Dae-jung’s Policies on North Korea:
Achievements and Future Goals. Seoul: March 25, 1999, pp. 16-17; and The People’s Korea
[North Korea’s unofficial outlet in Tokyo] (Internet version) in English, February 3, 1999.
Predictably, the cash deal drew strong criticism from opposition parliamentary members and
other concerned commentators asserting that the money could be used for the North Korean
development of nuclear and missile programs. For Rep. Lee Se-ki’s critical remarks, see The
Record of Proceedings in Korean, Committee on Unification, Foreign Affairs, and Trade,
November 6, 1998. Secretariat of the National Assembly.
66 The Korea Herald (Internet version), January 22, 1999.
67 Kim Ki-Jung and Yoon Deok Ryong, “Beyond Mt. Kumkang: Social and Economic
Implications” (a paper presented at the conference on “Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy:
Conceptual Promise and Challenges”), Georgetown University, Washington, D. C., May 17,
68 op. cit., p.10, 14-15.
69 Pyongyang argued that the South Korean “rightwing reactionaries” opposing the Kumgang
tour project are “a herd of traitors to the nation.” KCNA in English, September 25, 1998.
70 KCNA in English, April 27, 1999.
Pyongyang and the Sunshine Policy
Has Pyongyang’s policy toward Seoul been any different under President Kim’s
sunshine policy? Whether or not North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s cordial treatment
of President Kim Dae Jung during their June 13-15, 2000 summit resulted from the
sunshine policy cannot be determined, but clearly North Korea has showed a new and
warmer attitude toward relations with the South. This, however, was not the case in
At first blush, Pyongyang’s policy in 1999 seemed different because its February
3, 1999, overture for dialogue with the South contained a nuance of expression that
can be construed as “a sign of change.” Closely examined, this overture seemed to
reflect a shift in style, not in substance. There was little to suggest that Pyongyang
changed its policy of attempting to use the South to its own advantage.
In a hint of change in February 1999, Pyongyang proposed a reunification-
oriented dialogue, repackaging a previous overture. Unlike a similar 1998 proposal,
for instance, the proposal this time contained an explicit reference to a possible
dialogue “between the authorities” of the two sides in the second half of 1999.
Uncharacteristically, it also refrained from repeating Pyongyang’s familiar demand for
the dissolution of Seoul’s counterintelligence unit—the Agency for National Security
Planning, now renamed the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Initially, the Kim
administration seemed to read the 1999 proposal as a welcome sign of change,
courtesy of its sunshine policy.71
A close reading shows that the 1999 overture was essentially a reiteration of
Pyongyang’s past position. It argued that the dialogue should be guided solely by the
principles and guidelines set forth by the “great leaders” Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong
Il.72 Then it urged the South to comply with three preconditions before the dialogue
could take place. It demanded that the Kim administration should immediately: 1)
cease cooperation and joint military exercises with “outside forces” (i.e. the United
States); 2) abrogate Seoul’s national security law that is designed to control
Pyongyang’s covert operations in the South as well as pro-North Korean activities
among South Koreans; and 3) guarantee the freedom of activities for “patriotic, pro-73
unification” (i.e. pro-North Korean) groups in South Korea. North Korea defined
71 Hankyore (Internet version) in Korean, February 4, 1999. (This newspaper was, before
1998, reputedly anti-establishment, anti-government, and anti-U.S. but now it is widely regard
in Seoul as supportive of the Kim administration.) For ruling party lawmakers’ upbeat
statements on the possibility of Pyongyang’s positive response “in the near future” see The
Korea Times (Internet version), February 19, 1999. The Kim administration’s so-called
“affirmative” assessment of Pyongyang’s proposal was acknowledged by the North, even
while rejecting Seoul’s objection to the preconditions laid down by the North. KCNA in
English, February 8, 1999.
72 Radio Pyongyang in Korean to South Korea, February 13, 1999.
73 “Broad-Ranged North-South Dialogue Should Be Brought To Realization,” Nodong
Sinmun, March 5, 1999, p.5; Hanguk Ilbo (Internet version) in Korean, April 17, 1999;
Unattributed talk: “Providing Wide-Ranging Dialogue Is Development of the Fatherland’s
these conditions as the standards by which to judge whether the Kim administration
was “pro-unification” or pro-American.74
The Kim administration reacted with watchful prudence, aware that compromise
on those conditions would generate two equally unattractive consequences: adverse
domestic public opinion and probable complications for South Korea’s security
alliance with the United States. Nevertheless, in Seoul, some with connections to the
Kim administration seemed to feel that, to break the inter-Korean deadlock, the
admittedly “superior” South should compromise first to make up for the “economic
and diplomatic weakness” of the “inferior North.”75
It should be noted that, for years, these preconditions were among the
parameters of Pyongyang’s attempt to turn the South into a permissive environment
for North Korean infiltration and covert operations.76 To be sure, Pyongyang’s
silence on the NIS, alleged to be the “notorious headquarters of anti-North fascist
plots,” appeared to be revealing, but did not signify its willingness to condone the
NIS’s existence. On the contrary, the North continues to press the South to
“dismantle” the NIS.77 The silence was apparently calculated for effect because, in the
unlikely event that the national security law were abolished, the NIS would have no
legal standing on which to base its anti-spy operations. One may also note that the
NIS would be under the same legal constraints, should the Kim administration decide
to guarantee the freedom of pro-North Korean activities in the South. A case can be
made, then, that the February 1999 overture was probably intended to gauge the
efficacy of Pyongyang’s reinvented, for lack of a better term, “dialogue card” that
apparently has been designed to capitalize on the Kim administration’s reputed
craving for high-level talks with the North.
Reunification,” Radio Pyongyang in Korean to South Korea, February 13, 1999.
74 Korean Central Broadcasting Network in Korean, February 24, 1999.
75 “Taehan Plaza”: “Path to Non-Absorption Peaceful Unification,” Taehan Maeil (Internet
version), February 13, 1999. (This daily newspaper is reportedly funded by the South Korean
76 Unattributed talk: “The Anti-Reunification Criminal Act Should Be Stopped at Once,”
[North] Korean Central Broadcasting Network in Korean, March 17, 1999. For Pyongyang’s
consistent line that South Koreans should collaborate with “Communists and with the North”
by rejecting reliance on the United States, see Minju Choson [North Korea’s governmental
daily] in Korean, February 4, 1999, p.4. Pyongyang’s standard line is that “independence”
[North Korea’s code word for national liberation from the U.S. when applied to inter-Korean
issues] and self-reliant unification are possible only through an alliance with the North; and
that a pro-American line will perpetuate the South’s dependency on Washington and hence
an indefinite national division. Yu Choon-taek, “Pro-American/Anti-North Korean or Pro-
North Korean/Anti-American?,” Ch’ongmaek in Korean [published in North Korea], March
77 “Open Statement” of the [North Korean] National Reunification Institute on the South
Korean National Intelligence Service, April 21, 1999, carried by [North] Korean Central
Broadcasting Network in Korean, April 30, 1999.
Until recently, Pyongyang seemed ambivalent about the sunshine policy. It took
umbrage at that policy’s alleged aim “to undress the North in all aspects of politics,
economy, and military affairs.”78 And it denounced the policy as reactionary and79
deceptive, a subterfuge aimed at the overthrow of the North. Nonetheless,
Pyongyang seemed to have judged that this policy could be useful because of a
possible “win-win” outcome in relations with the South, an outcome that would
enable the North to have it both ways—extracting financial/economic benefits from
South Korean firms such as Hyundai virtually risk-free without conceding anything
substantive to the South.
Some observers opine that Pyongyang is in a “no-lose” situation, given the
premise that success or failure of the sunshine policy hinges on Pyongyang’s action
and that, therefore, the North may be able to affect the outcome of the policy either
by going through the motions of a positive response to the South, or by withholding
it from the South as a means of extracting further concessions.80 Critics say that in
its quest for “a positive response” from the North, the Kim administration could run
the risk of playing into the hands of the opportunistic North.81
South Korean Domestic Reaction
Under past authoritarian regimes, the South’s policy toward the North was more
often off-limits to the opposition, nor was it a subject to be addressed independently
by free-lance journalists or academics. The policy was, in and of itself, a national
security matter controlled exclusively by the Blue House and national security
agencies. In 1993, however, when the democratically elected administration of the
first civilian President Kim Young Sam took office, backed by pro-democracy
activists, the North Korea policy veered to the left — briefly — for the first time since
independence. Under pressure from conservatives and public opinion alike, the
sometimes erratic policy could not be sustained. Even after a shift to the right, the
Kim Young Sam administration (1993-1997) seemed hard pressed to maintain the
delicate balancing act. When North Korea refused to acknowledge reciprocity or tried
to force an issue, Kim Young Sam reacted, hardening his position to perceived slights
78 KCNA in English, March 11, 1999
79 Korean Central Broadcasting Network in Korean, March 7, 1999; KCNA in English,
March 11, 1999; Minju Choson in Korean, October 25, 1998, p.4.
80 On the significance of Pyongyang’s role, Lee Hong Koo, a former South Korean Prime
Minister and also minister of unification, is quoted as remarking (prior to his current posting
as Seoul’s ambassador to Washington) that: “In North-South relations, 90 percent depends
on North Korea...It does not depend so much on who is in the Blue House.” Nicholas D.
Kristof, “South Korea’s New President Appeals to North to End Decades of Division,” New
York Times, February 25, 1998, A8.
81 A case in point is the concern expressed by the opposition Grand National Party that the
North will capitalize on the Kim administration’s “hasty approach” to Pyongyang. The Korea
Times (Internet version), February 21, 1999.
82 This situation prompted Kim Dae Jung to remark, several days before the December 18,
The sunshine policy is intended to correct the perceived failings of the previous
administration.83 But some South Koreans seem conflicted about this policy, which
they see as having gone to the other extreme. As in the past, the current North Korea
policy has been perceived by many essentially as a “Blue House” show, in this
instance closely identified with President Kim’s persona. That may yield apparent
stability for the engagement policy during his tenure in office ending in February 2003,
despite uncertainty about sustainability beyond. Respected for his expertise on
unification and foreign policy issues, coupled with his reputedly forceful personality,
President Kim has seemed to have a free hand in directing the policy.84
President Kim is widely believed to have an advantage of being at the helm of an
authoritarian, bureaucratized ruling system. In this milieu, past and present, people
tend not only to defer to presidential authority but also try to be on the presidential
side of a policy issue. It is not uncommon that a policy perceived to have a
presidential imprimatur tends to go more often unquestioned in public, unless the
policy is perceived to be untenable on its own merit. On the other hand, despite the
predominant influence of the Blue House over the engagement policy, South Koreans
do not seem as intimidated as they used to be when it comes to freedom of
expression or of the press. To be sure, it is an open secret in Seoul that the South
Korean media continue to “self-censor” while reporting or editorializing on issues
judged to be potentially offensive to the authorities.85 Nevertheless, critics and
observers across the political spectrum have seemed able to express their views,
albeit, in carefully measured language.
Domestic reaction also has been tempered by two key perspectives. First is an
across-the-board consensus that war must be avoided. Second is a view of a majority
that the engagement policy deserved the benefit of the doubt, a view augmented by
the Kim administration’s reasoning that the only way to find out whether the sunshine
policy will work or not is to engage the North. There has seemed to be few public
qualms about the rationale and structure of the policy, provided the South remained
ever alert to Pyongyang’s potential entrapment game or to the risk of falling prey to
wishful thinking. Some observers opined that such thinking was reflected in the
condescending notion that the sunshine policy reflects the confidence of a government
1997 election, that Kim Young Sam’s hardline policy on the North and lack of policy
consistency caused “unnecessary conflict with the U.S. policy of soft-landing the North.”
“Kim Dae Jung to Take a More Flexible Approach to NK, If Elected,” The Korea Herald,
December 12, 1997, p.1.
84 News Plus (Ch’ollian Database version) in Korean, March 3, 1999.
85 The author’s interviews in Seoul, in October 1999. For an opinion suggesting that South
Korean reporters may not be duly sensitive to their professional code of ethics, see Lee Chae-
jin, “Collusion Between Government and Media Unprecedented in the World,” Hanguk Ilbo
in Korean, October 30, 1999.
that has the upper hand in overall national strength rather than “the submissive
posture of a weak government.”86
Among political circles, reaction to the policy differs along partisan as well as
ideological divides. Political supporters of President Kim have seemed to follow the
top-down line of reasoning that there are “signs”of a changing North Korea linked to
“a pragmatic force” within the circles of the party, military, and government
functionaries. The sunshine policy, the argument goes, has been not to “appease” the
North but to help bolster this pragmatic group as a way to induce the North to “open
up and reform” in the long run. This line of reasoning also underscores that the
engagement policy is aimed at ending the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.87 South
Koreans have been asked to be patient and not to expect a quick return on the long-
term engagement policy.
Dissenting views have come mainly from the opposition GNP, insurgent
members of the ruling coalition partner ULD, a dwindling number of concerned
journalists, and foreign and inter-Korean affairs specialists on the center-right. Despite
their reservations about the sunshine policy, though, they have appeared to agree with
the rationale for the policy in broad terms.88 Critics have tended to argue that even as
the policy may help allay — eventually — Pyongyang’s concerns about its survival,
it still might not be able to cajole the North to lower its guard on the touchy question
of openness and reform. In this reasoning, the critics have taken a skeptical view of
the Kim administration’s “haste” in trying to stretch the notion of reciprocity to an
indefinite future. From Pyongyang’s perspective, non-transparency and isolation are
believed to be critical to its survival, in a bid to catch the adversaries off guard or keep
them at bay and guessing on the “unpredictability” of its intentions and actions.89 It
might be wishful thinking, critics have opined, to anticipate a desired change in the
North in the foreseeable future. Having exploited, for lack of a better term, a
“reverse-sunshine-card” to ensure its survivability, a self-centered Kim Jong Il regime
might decide to keep its Stalinist ways more or less unchanged; and worse still,
buttressed by large conventional military forces coupled with a reasonable suspicion
of nuclear capability, it might even try to bully the South to accede to its terms for
coexistence or unification.90
86 Yang Young-shik, “Kim Dae-jung Administration’s North Korea Policy,” op.cit., p.52;
Taehan Maeil (Internet version) in Korean, February 13, 1999..
87 Park Sang-seek, “Why Should We Pursue Sunshine Policy?,” The Korea Herald (Internet
version), March 26, 1999.
88 For example, GNP leader Lee Hoi Chang is reported to have once said that “the GNP does
not denounce the engagement policy altogether.” The Korea Times (Internet version) in
English, March 16, 1999; also “GNP Head Lee Raps ‘Sunshine Policy’,” The Korea Times,
July 17, 1998, p.2.
89 For typical North Korean style of negotiation, see Chuck Downs, Over the Line: North
Korea’s Negotiating Strategy. Washington, D. C.: The AEI Press, 1999.
90 A similar concern was voiced in 1994 by Defense Secretary William Perry as a likely
scenario with the North commanding “an unchecked nuclear capability” and large
conventional forces. William Perry, “U.S. Security Policy in Korea”: Address to the Asia
U.S. Troops as “Peacekeepers”?
The preceding line of reasoning has suggested that an isolated and insecure
Pyongyang may refuse to make concessions unless it can gain guarantees of absolute
regime survival. To Pyongyang, an eventual U.S. military withdrawal from the South
has appeared most important in this regard. Barring that, some analysts say that,
Pyongyang might acquiesce in continued U.S. presence, albeit, in a neutral
“peacekeeping” role.91 If Pyongyang’s reported “shift” in policy is true, the
implication seems to be that the United States might be pressed to relinquish its
defense obligations to the South as part of a new role as “peacekeepers” in Korea. To
the consternation of critics in Seoul, the Kim administration reportedly tried to take
Pyongyang’s so-called “policy shift”as a sign of Pyongyang’s positive response to the
sunshine policy.92 Later, blaming “media competition and misunderstanding,” the Kim
administration clarified that the structure and disposition of “all forces on the Korean
Peninsula” can be addressed only after substantial progress is achieved on establishing
a peace regime on the peninsula.93 President Kim is known to favor continued U.S.
military presence even beyond Korean unification—but without explaining in what
Coordination with the United States
By mid-1998, President Kim seemed to have become convinced of an emergent
need to craft a new approach within his overall sunshine policy. This may have
reflected his disappointment at a lack of a positive response from Pyongyang to his
overture for dialogue and because of his concern that Seoul and Washington could
end up working at cross-purposes, to Pyongyang’s advantage. Apparently, it was
unsettling for the Kim administration to realize that Seoul and Washington might have
a different focus in dealing with the North—Seoul being absorbed in the narrower
issues germane to the two Koreas, as opposed to Washington’s global concerns about
Society, Washington, DC, May 3, 1994, in U.S. Department of State Dispatch, May 9, 1994,
91 For this “shift in policy” and a view that the South Korean-U.S. military alliance should be
redefined “in a future-oriented way,” see Yi Ch’ol-ki, “We Should Again Think About the
Status of the US Troops,” Hankyore (Internet version) in Korean, April 20, 1999.
92 Editorial: “Unwarranted NK Policy Shift,” The Korea Times (Internet version) in English,
April 7, 1999.
93 Hankyore (Internet version) in Korean, April 7, April 11, 1999; Editorial: “The Status of
USFK [U.S. Forces in Korea],” Chosun Ilbo (Internet version) in English, April 7, 1999;
“Why Confusion Over USFK?,” Hanguk Ilbo in Korean, April 8, 1999; Taehan Maeil
(Internet version) in Korean, April 8, 1999..
94 For a report that the Korea summit may kindle “a significant rethinking and restructuring
of U.S. forces” in South Korea and Japan, see “Korea Summit May Portend Changes for U.S.
Military,” Washington Post, June 21, 2000, A7.
nuclear and missile proliferation.95 The Kim administration also seemed troubled by
a perceived lack of a clear road map in Washington’s North Korea policy.96 Thus
President Kim seemed to sense the need to integrate the South Korean and U.S.
policies into a more coherent and coordinated framework.
In June 1998, in an interview with the New York Times several days prior to his
state visit to Washington, President Kim called for the United States to change its
North Korea policy by increasing economic and political engagement with the North.
As part of a more future-oriented and flexible approach, he suggested that the United
States end its economic sanctions against the North, without setting conditions.97 In
addition, he urged the United States to normalize its relations with the North to help
the North end its isolation and “open up” to the outside world.
His notion of a new U.S. approach seemed to take shape rapidly, having gained
a new urgency precipitated by two security-related developments in August 1998.
One was the public disclosure of the existence of a possible underground nuclear
facility in the North; the other was Pyongyang’s launch of a three-stage Taepodong-I
ballistic missile through Japanese airspace. President Kim seemed worried by the
disquieting prospect that his sunshine policy could be derailed by a U.S. congressional
reaction to these developments. Particularly at issue was the Omnibus Appropriations
Act for FY 1999 specifying that no new funds could be allocated for KEDO after
March 1, 1999, without the presidential certification that North Korea is in
compliance with all provisions of the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework of
October 1994. Another key issue was the congressionally mandated presidential
certification by June 1, 1999, that the United States is making “significant progress
in negotiations with North Korea on reducing and eliminating the North Korean
ballistic missile threat.” President Kim seemed to fear that a tough reaction from
Washington might put North Korean hardliners into a bellicose mood.
Crystallized by year-end in the form of a “package deal,” Kim Dae Jung’s new
approach, or a “comprehensive engagement policy,” can be seen as an extension —
on a grander and more inclusive scale — of his sunshine policy. Vague as it was, it
became the centerpiece of the Kim administration’s diplomatic agenda tailored to gain
unqualified support from the United States (especially from congressional
Republicans), Japan, China, and Russia. Specifically, following up on his earlier June
95 Pak Che-kyun, “A Chasm in the ROK-US-Japan Coordination System,” News Plus
(Ch’ollian Database version) in Korean, March 3, 1999.
96 The concern over the “road map” issue seemed to have been fueled since late 1998, in the
wake of Washington’s perceived “hawkish” reaction to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile
issues; the Kim administration apparently judged that such a hardline, case-by-case reaction
to every single instance of North Korean behavior would not only be futile but also adversely
influence the sunshine policy. The Kim administration seemed to argue that the United States
needed to put the North Korean issues in a broad perspective and thus its plea for “a
comprehensive” U.S. approach. JoongAng Ilbo, February 9, 1999; JoongAng (Internet
Version) in English, February 12, 1999; The Korea Times, (Internet version), December 10,
97 Nicholas D. Kristof, “Seoul Leader Asks End to Sanctions on North Koreans,” New York
Times, June 2, 1998, A1.
1998 suggestions, President Kim proposed that the United States improve its
economic and diplomatic ties with the North, provide economic assistance, and
guarantee Pyongyang’s national security—conditioned on the latter’s reciprocal
commitment to end its nuclear and missile programs and to refrain from military
provocations against the South.98 He further suggested that U.S.-Japanese
normalization of relations with the North no longer be predicated on parallel progress
in inter-Korean relations.99 A major departure from the policy of his predecessor, the
shift seemed to signal the Kim administration’s concerted effort to reinvent the inter-
Korean environment to make it more hospitable to a wary Pyongyang, one which still
appeared to be operating on the basis of a distorted vision of reality.100 Part of that
effort included Seoul’s resolve, as a senior Blue House official stated, “to leave no
stone unturned to persuade them [“hawkish” U.S. Republicans and other U.S.
skeptics] into accepting our practical proposal.”
The Kim administration had hoped that a comprehensive engagement policy
would be adopted by the Clinton Administration’s North Korea policy coordinator
William Perry as the centerpiece of the so-called “Perry report.”101 Released in
October 1999, this report was viewed in Seoul as being in step with its own
engagement approach and expressed support for the report’s findings because they102
are said to “endorse and complement” President Kim’s policy. However, even as
the Perry report was appraised as “realistic and balanced,” some South Korean
“experts” are reported as criticizing it for not paying sufficient attention to inter-
Korea issues, dealing as it did “exclusively with North Korean nuclear and missile103
issues.” Simply put, the Perry report concludes that the United States has two
policy alternatives toward Pyongyang. The first and better one is to normalize
relations gradually as the DPRK relinquishes its nuclear weapons programs. The
other one, in case North Korea fails to do so, is for the U.S. and its allies to take
98 Ch’ongwadae WWW in Korean, December 8, 1998; The Korea Herald (Internet version)
in English, December 9, 1998; The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, December 8,
99 This seemed to depart from President Kim’s own position as of December 30, 1997, when,
even as he urged Japan and the United States to promote economic relations with North
Korea, he stressed that they should not allow the North to seek dialogue with Tokyo and
Washington to the exclusion of South Korea. President Kim made the point to then-Japanese
Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi. The Korea Herald (Internet version) in English, December
31, 1997; earlier in the same month, then-candidate Kim Dae Jung was reported to have also
said, “... any improvement in the North’s relations with the United States and Japan should
be made in harmony with progress in inter-Korean relations.” The Korea Herald, December
100 The previous administrations’ position was that improvement in the U.S.-North Korean
relations should be conditioned on similar progress in North-South Korean relations. Kim Jae-
il, Sisa Journal, December 25, 1997, p.51.
101 The Korea Times (Internet version) in English, May 5, May 6, 1999.
102 Korea Update. Washington, D.C.: Embassy of the Republic of Korea, November 1999,
103 JoongAng Ilbo (Internet version) in English, October 25, 1999.
unspecified “other steps” to contain the threat.104 Perry’s North Korea policy review
team is also cited as “strongly” believing that the U.S. must not withdraw any of its
forces from Korea so as not to jeopardize peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Admittedly, the report did not “immediately address a number of issues outside the
scope of direct U.S.-DPRK negotiations, such as ROK family reunification,
implementation of the  North-South Basic Agreement...and Japanese kidnaping
cases, as well as other key issues of concern.” It does note, however, that “all of
these issues should be, and would be, seriously addressed as relations between the
DPRK and the U.S. improve.”105
President Kim Dae Jung’s leadership marked a significant milestone in South
Korean evolution towards mature democracy. That came as an unprecedented transfer
of power from the center-right establishment to a center-left minority in opposition,
accompanied by an equally historic shift in the regionally defined center of power.
These changes arguably reflected the advent of a new generation of power elite
steeped in the politics of liberalism, not to mention the politics of fragile coalition rule
between two regionally-based, ideologically disparate parties. The thrust of these
developments has tended to harden the personality-dominated partisan divide along
regional lines, making bipartisan accommodation even more difficult — especially as
regards President Kim’s reputedly dovish “sunshine policy.” Political stability has
seemed elusive, punctuated by false starts and failed expectations of bipartisanship.
Moreover, the tenuousness of political stability raises the specter of continued
The ongoing partisan standoff provides a volatile political background
influencing President Kim’s sunshine policy—and by extension, critical U.S. security
interests as well. The engagement policy may well stay the course through December
2002, when a new President must be elected (by law President Kim is required to step
down in February 2003). Whether the sunshine policy can be sustained beyond 2002
appears unclear, given the fragility of a bipartisan show of support for the policy and
what can be interpreted as a “wait-and-see” attitude among the center-right political
leaders and other concerned South Koreans. The dividing line of pros and cons,
however, does not appear to be as hardened as it may seem. Criticism of the sunshine
policy is not about the grand rationale and structure of the policy but about its
potential negative results for some South Korean interests.106
104 U.S. Department of State, “Statement of William Perry on U.S. North Korea Policy,”
International Information Programs (Washington File, October 12, 1999).
105 For a full text of the report, see U.S. Policy Toward North Korea I: Perry Review, in
Hearing Before the Committee of International Relations, House of Representatives. 106th
Congress. First Session, October 13, 1999, Serial No. 106-74. Washington: GPO, 2000, pp.
106 On May 24, 1999, President Kim named Lim Dong-won, his senior aide for national
security and foreign affairs, as new Minister of Unification. The President’s principal point
Assuming the best possible outcome for the two Koreas, the post-summit
“unification euphoria” may in time take on a life of its own. On balance, that seems
likely to hinge on whether North Korea is willing to try to play by the rules of the
international community with regard to reciprocity, confidence building and peaceful
coexistence. Equally critical, the momentum toward reconciliation could stall if the
North overplays its hands or there were to be a civil unrest in the South spawned by
a groundswell of what might be called “pro-North Korean” leftist activities.
To assure a domestic consensus and a best possible outcome for the engagement
policy, some observers believe that the Kim administration should make its decision-
making process more transparent so that the sunshine policy can be popularly
embraced as a truly national, rather than “a Blue House,” policy. Many South Korean
analysts seem troubled by the perception that key decisions on the policy continue to
be made by a few in the privacy of the Blue House.
Another concern is over the Kim administration’s perceived “retreat” on the
principle of reciprocity, now apparently stretched to a policy of “aiding-the-North-
first” in hopes of Pyongyang returning the favor in the future. Critics maintain that
such a “wait-and-see” and benign attitude will more likely embolden the North to try
to exact more concessions from the South in a high-priority bid to maintain its
“military-first” policy at the expense of other sectors of society. The Kim
administration’s attitude toward reciprocity, or lack of balance between carrots and
sticks, as the argument goes, will more likely affect South Korea’s domestic political
calm and national security.
President Kim urges the United States and Japan to normalize their relations with
North Korea, not minding the absence of parallel progress in inter-Korean relations.
Critics tend to argue that this might leave South Korea with minimal leverage needed
to keep inter-Korean relations on an even keel, making it difficult to steer the North
toward a desired end if only because a self-centered North Korean regime will be less
likely to be accommodating.
Observers note that Washington seems concerned about a perception that the
Kim administration and the United States have different perspectives on dealing with
Pyongyang’s nuclear and missiles issues. Absent an agreement on policy priorities,
this could pose a problem in policy coordination. Moreover, analysts have argued
man on the sunshine policy, Lim replaced Kang In-dok, one of the reputed hardliners on North
Korea and the frequent target of North Korean criticism that Kang’s ministerial role would
not bode well for the future of inter-Korean dialogue and reconciliation. Yonhap in English,
May 24, 1999; The Korea Herald (Internet version) in English, May 25, 1999; The Korea
Times (Internet version) in English, May 24, 1999. On May 26, 1999, a North Korean
commentator gloated over Kang’s departure, noting that Kang had “disrupted” the North-
South dialogue by “waving the so-called reciprocity card.” [North] Korean Central
Broadcasting Network in Korean, May 26, 1999.
that there is a need for South Korea, together with the United States and Japan, to
clarify when to stand up to Pyongyang to counter its “unacceptable behavior.”107
Defenders of the sunshine policy seem convinced that this policy deserves to be
given a chance. The new paradigm may not yield the desired outcomes in the short
term, but President Kim’s engagement policy is a substantial improvement, both in
conceptual and practical terms, over the North Korea policies of the previous South
Korean administrations, policies they say were reactive, inconsistent, and, above all,
unproductive. Reciprocity, they argue, need not be the determinant of engagement;
South Korea has the strength and enough resolve to be able to pursue a policy of
“aid-first-and-rewards-later.” In their view, what South Koreans need is an act of faith
in the inevitability of reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas.
107 Richard L. Armitage, “A Comprehensive Approach to North Korea,” in Strategic Forum,
National Defense University, No. 159, March 1999.