Sunshine Policy

Sunshine Policy
Hangul 햇볕 정책
Hanja 햇볕 政策
Revised Romanization Haetbyeot jeongchaek
McCune–Reischauer Haetpyŏt chŏngch'aek
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
South Korea

The Sunshine Policy was the foreign policy of South Korea towards North Korea from 1998 until Lee Myung-bak's election to presidency in 2007. Since its articulation by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the policy resulted in greater political contact between the two States and some historic moments in Inter-Korean relations; the two Korean summit meetings in Pyongyang (June 2000 and October 2007) which broke ground, several high-profile business ventures, and brief meetings of family members separated by the Korean War.

In 2000, Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful implementation of the Sunshine Policy.


The main aim of the policy was to soften North Korea's attitudes towards the South by encouraging interaction and economic assistance.

The national security policy had three basic principles:

These principles were meant to convey the message that the South does not wish to absorb the North or to undermine its government; its goal was peaceful co-existence rather than regime change.

Kim's administration also outlined two other major policy components. The first was the separation of politics and economics. In practice, this meant that the South loosened restrictions on its private sector to invest in North Korea, limiting its own involvement essentially to humanitarian aid. This was initially meant both to improve the North's economy and to induce change in the North's economic policy, though the latter goal was later (at least officially) de-emphasized.

The second component was the requirement of reciprocity from the North. Initially it was intended that the two States would treat each other as equals, each making concessions and compromises. Perhaps most criticism of the policy stemmed from the significant backpedaling by the South on this principle in the face of unexpected rigidity from the North. It ran into trouble just two months into the Sunshine era, when South Korea requested the creation of a reunion center for divided families in exchange for fertilizer assistance; North Korea denounced this as horse trading and cut off talks. A year later the South announced its goal would be "flexible reciprocity" based on Confucian values; as the "elder brother" of the relationship the South would provide aid without expecting an immediate reciprocation and without requesting a specific form of reciprocity. The South also announced that it would provide humanitarian assistance without any expectations of concessions in return.

The logic of the policy was based on the belief that, even in light of its continuing shortages and economic duress, the North's government will not collapse, disintegrate, or reform itself, even if the South were to apply strong pressure. It was believed that military tensions can be lessened through bilateral and multilateral frameworks. This emphasized the normalization of political and economic relations between both the United States and North Korea as well as Japan.

The term sunshine policy originates in The North Wind and the Sun, one of Aesop's fables.

Kim Dae-jung administration

Under Kim Dae-jung's administration the Sunshine Policy was first formulated and implemented. North-South cooperative business developments began, including a railroad and the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, where several thousand South Korean citizens still traveled until 2008, when there was a shooting incident and the trips were cancelled. Though negotiations for them were difficult, three reunions between divided families were held.

In 2000, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il met at a summit meeting, the first conference held between leaders of the two States after the Korean War. The summit meeting was held from June 13 to 15, and at the end of the meeting, June 15th North–South Joint Declaration was adopted between the two Koreas. In the declaration, both of two Koreas reached an agreement in five point, to settle the problem of independent reunification, to promote peaceful reunification, to solve humanitarian problems as separated family issue, to encourage to cooperate and exchange in economy, and to have a dialogue between the North and South. After the summit, however, talks between the two States stalled. Criticism of the policy intensified and Unification Minister Lim Dong-won lost a no-confidence vote on September 3, 2001.[1] After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US called North Korea part of the Axis of Evil and the North cut off talks with the South.[2] In 2002 a short naval skirmish over disputed fishing territory killed six South Korean sailors, further chilling relations.[3][4]

Credible allegations later came to light that Kim's administration had arranged the 2000 summit meeting with payments worth several hundred million dollars to North Korea.

Roh administration

President Roh Moo-hyun continued the policy of his predecessor, and relations on the divided peninsula warmed somewhat from 2002. In 2003, the issue of the North's possession of nuclear weapons surfaced again, with both North Korea and the U.S. accusing each other of breaching the Agreed Framework.

Nevertheless, Roh stayed committed to the policy and his government continued to supply the North with humanitarian aid. The two governments continued cooperation on the projects begun under Kim Dae-jung and also started the Kaesong Industrial Park, with South Korea spending the equivalent of just over $324 million on aid to the North in 2005.[5]

There appeared to be a pro-unificational Korean trend in public attitudes during the Roh administration, though there are significant differences between generations, political groups, and regions.[6][7][8] But the ruling Uri Party, which strongly supported it, suffered electoral defeats and in 2008 the party lost its majority in the government. The new government took a harsher stance toward North Korea.

Both the North and South Korean Governments agreed to hold a summit in Pyongyang on August 20, 2007, but this was later postponed to [9] October 2 to 4 due in part to an internal crisis within North Korea. Unlike his predecessor Kim Dae-jung who travelled to Pyongyang by plane,[10] Roh travelled from Seoul to Pyongyang overland by car on October 2. Roh made a stopover at Panmunjeom and crossed the Military Demarcation Line by foot, stating that his gesture would symbolize the future reunification of Korea.[11]


North Korean defector and journalist Kang Chol-Hwan, who spent nine years in a North Korean prison camp, claims that Kim Dae Jung was mistaken in offering assistance to the North without any conditions of improving human rights in return. Kang disagrees with claims that the Sunshine Policy has led to a settlement of peace between North and South and questions the concept of no-strings-attached humanitarian aid, saying "it is important to understand that North Koreans are starving not because of a lack of aid from South Korea or the U.S., but because they are deprived of freedom. Giving aid only throws a line to the government, and prolongs starvation, surely a perverse outcome." [12] Similarly, according to Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, it is mentioned that the famine is caused by North Korean Government‘s unfair distribution of food in addition to by bad weather and lack of crop.

Some critics of the Sunshine Policy contend that rather than increasing the chances of reunification or undermining the regime in North Korea, it has been used instead for political gain in domestic politics in the South. They point to what they say are the continuing provocations and criminal activities committed by the North, such as the 2002 sea battle that left several South Korean sailors dead, [13] the counterfeiting of American money,[14] and what they call the North's general unwillingness to reciprocate Seoul's gestures of goodwill, as evidence that the North is interested only in receiving money and aid to prop up the communist regime. Critics also believe that, in exchange for providing humanitarian aid, the South should demand that the North return detained South Korean citizens and the remains of POWs from the Korean War.[15] Some see the Kaesong Industrial Park as merely a way for large South Korean companies to employ cheaper labor.

Many South Korean conservative-leaning observers see the weakening of the US-South Korea alliance as being due in large part to the Sunshine Policy; they say it has led the South to favor the North's interests over those of its ally the United States [15][16] and that it leads South Korean politicians to unreasonably mute or censor criticism of the North and even to ignore the sacrifices of its own soldiers so as to avoid upsetting the North.[17][18][19] They say that this is harmful to the South's national interest in being allied with the United States,[20] and actually damages the chances for a smooth and peaceful reunification. Internationally and at home, the South Korean government has been criticized for repeatedly abstaining from United Nations votes condemning the North's human rights record.[17][21][22] The government defends the abstentions by citing the special character of inter-Korean relations.

Conspiracies have been alleged about South Korea's motivations for this policy. One North Korean defector who worked on weapons systems claimed that South Korean intelligence wanted to suppress his story, because it would shed a bad light on the policy.[23] According to the Wall Street Journal, several US senators believe his story.

However, it can be also insisted that the Sunshine Policy had some positive effect on North Korea’s demilitarization and denuclearization. Suk-young Kim mentions that North Korean government is “both strong and weak” and it is affected by “external and internal pressures” and its decisions to militarize and nuclearize or not are made by the relationship with other countries. The author of “Inside the Red Box: North Korea’s Post-Totalitarian Politics”, Patrick McEachern also analyzes that the North Korea’s government has not decides its policies, which has changed depending on the situation. Moreover he stated that North Korea has never changed its behaviors to peaceful by other’s pressures, and will never from on. Therefore the Sunshine Policy, the cooperative and friendly policy, contributed to freezing militarily and keeping in peace. The view is proved by comparing the number of North Korean’s missile and nuclear tests during Sunshine Policy period and the present unfriendly policy since Lee administration. Counting both number of tests proved and claimed by North Korea, the country practiced nuclear tests five times and missile tests eight times only in eight years since regime’s shift in 2008, although nuclear test one time and three times missile tests had carried out before 2008. (Refer to List of nuclear weapons tests of North Korea, List of North Korean missile tests, Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3, Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1)

Legacy and end

On October 9, 2006, before the nuclear and missile tests, South Korea suspended aid shipments to the North and put their military on high alert status. There was much concern regarding how South Korea can maintain a cooperative policy towards the North when such provocative acts occurred.[24] Nonetheless, the government of South Korea insisted that at least some aspects of the Sunshine Policy, including the Mount Gumgang Tourist Region and the Kaesong Industrial Region would continue.

From March 2008, however, the new president of the South, Lee Myung-bak and his party took a different stance to North Korea, and the South Korean government stated that any expansion of the economic cooperation at the Kaesong Industrial Region would only happen if the North resolved the international standoff over its nuclear weapons. Relations have again chilled, with North Korea making military moves such as a series of short range ship-to-ship missile tests.[25]

After the 2009 North Korean nuclear test, the relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang was again strained. According to Jungmin Kang writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "Because of the post-1998 'Sunshine policy', many South Korean nongovernmental organizations and the public weren't concerned about North Korea's threats, believing that Pyongyang would never use nuclear weapons against them."[26] South Korea's response to the nuclear test, although dampened by the recent death of its former President Roh Moo-hyun, included signing the Proliferation Security Initiative to prevent the shipment of nuclear materials to North Korea.[27]

In November 2010, the South Korean Unification Ministry officially declared the Sunshine Policy a failure, thus bringing the policy to an end.[28][29]

See also


  1. CNN 2001: North and South Korea talks
  2. FNF Korea-Liberal Times
  3. "CNN - Breaking News, Latest News and Videos". CNN. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  4. "Roundup: DPRK-S.Korea Clash Challenges 'Sunshine Policy'". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  5. "Aid to North rises with little to show in return". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  6. "Blogger". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  7. article
  8. "±¹Á¦±³·ùÀç´Ü ¿À·ù ÆäÀÌÁö". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  9. "Rescheduled summit focus shifts to solidifying six-party agreement". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  10. Korean Leaders Meet for Pyongyang Summit
  11. South Korean president to cross northern border with North on foot; Korean leaders meet in Pyongyang
  12. Kang, Chol-Hwan. "Give Us an 'Eclipse Policy'". Give Us an 'Eclipse Policy'. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  13. " - Transcripts". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  14. "N. Korea charged in counterfeiting of U.S. currency". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  15. 1 2 Hankooki Times article - October 2005
  16. Newsmax. " - Breaking news from around the globe: U.S. news, politics, world, health, finance, video, science, technology, live news stream". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  17. 1 2 "The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition): Daily News from Korea". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  18. "BBC News - ASIA-PACIFIC - Spy agency 'sacks N Korea defector'". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  19. Games are article
  20. July 2004 article from Hankooki Times
  21. The Korea Herald. "The Korea Herald". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  22. Hankooki Times, November 2005 article
  23. "Opinion". Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  24. "It's sunset for Seoul's sunshine policy". dna. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  25. MSNBC article: U.S. says N.K. missile tests "not constructive", March 28, 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2008.
  26. Jungmin Kang The North Korean nuclear test: Seoul goes on the defensive, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 12 June 2009
  27. Kiho Yi The North Korean nuclear test: The South Korean reaction, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 5 June 2009
  28. South Korea Formally Declares End to Sunshine Policy, Voice of America, 18 November 2010
  29. South Korea dumps Sunshine Policy with North, opts to go solo, International Business Times, 19 November 2010

Further reading

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