May 2008

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged the United States to pursue a more open approach toward North Korea. Photo: Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Bringing Light to North Korea

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, urges more engagement with Pyongyang

By Erica Marrero

After years of open hostility toward North Korea, the United States should return to a "sunshine policy" of open discussions with Pyongyang to improve prospects for peace in northeast Asia, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung told an audience at the Fletcher School on April 23.

Kim, who led the democracy movement in his country for a number of years, despite frequent imprisonment and threats on his life, was president of the Republic of Korea from 1998 to 2003. His speech at Tufts was part of an 11-day tour of the United States that included talks and lectures at several universities.

Kim is regarded as the father of the pro-engagement sunshine policy, having led the effort to hold the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000, with the support of the Clinton administration, to foster peaceful co-existence and collaboration between the two Koreas.

Noting the successes of the sunshine policy, Kim said the decrease in tensions led to the reunion of almost 16,000 families and substantial humanitarian assistance from the South. "My sunshine policy reaped great success through the first inter-Korean summit. Tension on the Korean peninsula greatly eased," he said. "The South built an industrial complex in North Korea and started a tourism business. About 1.8 million people visited Mount Kumgang in North Korea."

South Korea provides the North with 400,000 tons of food and 300,000 tons of fertilizer every year, Kim noted. "The North Korean people are aware that the food and fertilizer were sent by South Korea to help address their hunger, and the hostility North Koreans had against their southern counterpart became friendlier," he said. "Now they envy their brethren in the South and wish to enjoy the affluent life of South Koreans."

As hostility between the Koreas diminished, a change in culture followed, according to Kim, allowing North and South Korea "to live peacefully, which is necessary for ultimate reunification."

Kim said he thought that the so-called six-party talks-between the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea-that began under his administration had been "making progress that could lead to improvement of relations." As president, Kim said he realized the importance of good relations between South Korea and North Korea, as well as between South Korea and the United States. But Clinton's second term was coming to an end before talks could be finalized.

When President George W. Bush took office, the American posture toward North Korea hardened, as the new administration ushered in what Kim called the "ABC Policy"-Anything But Clinton-and "the situation with North Korea deteriorated. The days of warm sunshine were replaced by those of a cold north wind," he said. Kim added that it took Bush six years in office to realize his strategy in the Pacific was not working, prompting the recent openness to discussions with North Korea.

Kim said he welcomed the recent shift in U.S. policy toward engagement, and that he is "proud that we were right in pursuing this sunshine policy." He urged Washington to help preserve the six-party talks structure after the North Korean nuclear standoff is resolved as a way to address future northeast Asian security issues.

This type of pro-engagement policy "has not only achieved success in Korea but also proved to be effective internationally," he noted.

Kim envisions the six-party talks evolving into "a peace and security body" for northeast Asia. The United States' participation in the talks "would serve as a balance between the major superpowers in the region, Russia, Japan and China." The United States, he noted, "has many interests in the region" and would be an important broker in future talks.

Erica Marrero is a student at the Fletcher School, where she is working toward an M.A.L.D. in international communications.

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