South Korea seeks a new way to handle North Korea
The sinking of a naval ship in March called into question the longtime 'Sunshine Policy.' But could dire health care problems and new UN talks help ease North Korea's isolated stance in time for six-party-talks?
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He sees the change as one of degree.Skip to next paragraph
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"The relationship is not going to be as indulgent or as unconditional as before," says Han, conceding that North-South relations are "at a sort of a nadir." Nonetheless, "both sides are trying to keep the lid on rather than let it explode."
Still hope for a new Sunshine
Not all share such a roseate view. "The Cheonan incident shows Sunshine has failed," asserts Ryoo Kihl-jae, professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "The original goal was to change the North Korean system, but 10 years of Sunshine did not change North Korean policies." Still, he cites three realities that offer hope for Sunshine in a new framework.
"The first is the post-cold-war era has come," says Mr. Ryoo, meaning that North Korea has lost the economic support of the Soviet Union. "Second, there are big differences between North and South Korea's economic power and standing," internationally. And third, "We know very well North Korea is a failed regime especially after the mid-1990s."
Rather than talk about "engagement," says Ryoo, "the Sunshine Policy must be translated into an 'embracement' policy." He finds reason for optimism in the history of crises in which clashes did not occur after such tragedies as the Korean Air plane shot down over the Indian Ocean in 1987 or the killing of 17 South Koreans and four Burmese in Rangoon in 1983 by a bomb intended for Gen. Chun Doo-hwan, then South Korea's president.
Ryoo sees China as a stabilizing influence even though it is not likely to go along with demands for condemning North Korea for the Cheonan incident. "China is very embarrassed," he says.
In fact, many critics of President Lee do not support official rage over Cheonan. "Sunshine is not dead," says Paik Hak-soon, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute, "it is dormant." He sees the danger of a reversion to tactics employed before Korea's "democracy constitution in 1987," and predicts that "Sunshine will revive again" under Lee's successor.
China may be pivotal. "China's objective is the stability of the Korean Peninsula, the stability of North Korea, and denuclearization," he says. "All this is weakened by South Korea linking the Cheonan case to resumption of six-party talks."
Han sees Sunshine as bursting out again. "The North Koreans will come to the talks only under pressure and some compensation," he says. "China has to conduct its policy to maintain what modicum of influence it has over North Korea." In the end, "the nuclear issue will be resolved" – but "not this year."
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