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A Reprise of the Sunshine Policy

Updated On: Oct 05, 2007

In another initiative by South Korea for reunification, President Roh Moo-hyun visited North Korea and personally met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

However, there seems to be a sharp contrast in mood over this round of the Sunshine policy compared to former President Kim Dae-jung’s trip to North Korea in 2000.  There was something about the scene that was just not as emotional.

North Korean President Kim himself showed scant enthusiasm while orchestrated crowds cheered the start of the second-ever summit between the divided Koreas since World War II. Kim appeared reserved and unemotional, walking slowly and occasionally clapping lightly to encourage the crowd. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, however, soaked up the moment, waving and smiling broadly before reviewing a goose-stepping North Korean military honor guard wielding rifles with bayonets.

Roh’s professed goal for visiting North Korea at this time was to foster peace between the North and South, which remain technically at war. The initiative however lacks specifics and it is not clear what he is getting in return from North Korea. Conservatives in South Korea are already blasting President Roh for this trip, accusing him of using it for political mileage and stating that the summit is an ego trip for Roh seeking to establish a legacy in the waning days of his unpopular administration.

The visit was full of publicity for the South Korea President. Before meeting Kim, he stepped out of his vehicle to walk across the border that divides the Koreas in the center of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone. It was historical because the occasion was the first time any Korean leader has crossed the zone. ''This line is a wall that has divided the nation for a half-century. Our people have suffered from too many hardships and development has been held up due to this wall,'' Roh said before crossing. ''This line will be gradually erased and the wall will fall,'' he said. ''I will make efforts to make my walk across the border an occasion to remove the forbidden wall and move toward peace and prosperity.''

"I am now crossing this forbidden line as a president," a solemn Roh said just before stepping across. "After I return home, many more people will do likewise. Then this line of division will finally be erased and the barrier will break down. "This visit will help tear down the wall of division, ease the national pain from the division and lead to the path for peace and reconciliation."

"I intend to concentrate on making substantive and concrete progress that will bring about a peace settlement together with economic development," he said. The South Korean leader added, "I believe the determination of the two Koreas is more crucial than anything else when it comes to outlining the basic direction and picking up the pace of the movement forward."  Roh was honest to admit after the talks that there were still some differences in perceptions and views on issues, and that it will take some time for mutual trust and confidence to be secured. But he vowed to continue to work to establish “military trust and addressing humanitarian matters." ''Even if we do not reach an agreement in many areas, it would still be a meaningful achievement to narrow the gap in understanding and to enhance confidence in each other,'' Roh said of the meeting with Kim.  

After the three-day summit, the two leaders issued a joint declaration calling for international talks on a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean war so that permanent peace can return to the peninsula. The two sides also agreed to resume freight rail services across the heavily fortified border for the first time in more than five decades.

Officials involved in separate, international talks are confirmed that Pyongyang had committed to a timetable to disable its nuclear facilities.  US President George Bush has welcomed the agreement and a US-led team of experts are expected to be in North Korea in two weeks’ time to begin the process.  US also indicated it will make moves towards establishing full-fledged diplomatic ties if Pyongyang’s denuclearization process proceeded as planned.

Japan, on its part, seemed unmoved and plans to extend economic sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) for another six months, citing lack of progress in a row over the abductions of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang. "We are not in a situation in which we can stop or ease off on this," Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura was quoted as saying when asked about the sanctions. Since July 2006, Japan has also banned the cargo-passenger ferry Mangyongbong-92, the only direct passenger link between the two countries, from making port calls to Japan.  (4 October 2007)

Sources:

Korean leaders issue peace call (BBC World News, 4 October 2007)

North to stop making N-arms, US to work towards full ties (Straits Times, 4 October 2007)

SKorea's Roh makes historic border crossing into NKorea (Channelnewsasia, 2 October 2007)

Leaders of North, South Korea Meet (NY Times, 2 October 2007)

Leaders of North, South Korea meet (AP, 2 October 2007)

North, South Korean leaders to meet (AP, 1 October 2007)

Japan to extend economic sanctions on DPRK (People's Daily, 30 September 2007)

Bush approves $25m in N Korea aid (BBC, 28 September 2007)