Moon deserves chance to let sunshine in

By Da Zhigang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/16 20:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The year 2017 has seen ups and downs on the Korean Peninsula, with rising geopolitical risks in Northeast Asia including even the option of war. But at the very beginning of 2018, North and South Korea held their first high-level talks in around two years in the truce village of Panmunjom, agreeing to cooperate in the Pyeongchang Olympics and other measures to ease tensions. The world hoped for a possible detente.

The Winter Olympic Games provides a historic opportunity for both sides. North Korea tries to seize the opportunity to break out of isolation and is seeking to gain the initiative in bilateral and multilateral relations, while South Korea hopes to becalm escalating tensions and resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue and consultation. Efforts by both sides comply well with calls for peaceful development in Northeast Asia.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has always stuck to the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea. This policy was initiated by the Kim Dae-jung government which took office in 1998. In June 2000, Kim paid an official visit to North Korea, marking the first meeting between the two sides' leaders in 50 years of a divided peninsula. Later the Sunshine Policy became symbolic of South Korea's conciliatory approach toward North Korea and its willingness to offer aid. Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the initiative.

Born to a North Korean refugee family, Moon is a left-leaning politician who believes in political aesthetics and philosophy. He insists that South Korea play a dominant role in peninsula affairs, build permanent peace, commit to dialogue and people-to-people exchanges between the two sides, restart bilateral economic cooperation and offer aid to North Korea so as to build a new economic map on the peninsula. Moon has repeatedly expressed his intention to visit North Korea and find a mechanism for the nuclear issue.

But the harsh reality challenges the Sunshine Policy. Increasing worries about the escalating nuclear issue among the South Korean people make it impossible for the government to offer aid to North Korea. The United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea nine times, leaving little chance for the Moon government to establish economic cooperation with Pyongyang. Continuous provocative acts by North Korea and excessive pressure from the US have compelled South Korea to join in a military response. Both the international and domestic situations prevent Moon from promoting Sunshine.

The Olympic Games in Pyeongchang provide a historic opportunity for reconciliation. Their peace efforts should be supported by the international community including member states of the Six-Party Talks.

The last two South Korean presidents were often criticized for promoting the Sunshine Policy. Reactions to the latest peace efforts also diverge in the international community.

China welcomed and supported the two parties' efforts to improve bilateral relations, ease tensions and realize denuclearization of the peninsula. But international opinion is more doubtful and negative, making Moon's peace efforts more difficult. Although the US agreed to suspend US-South Korean military exercises during the high-level talks, Washington still urged Moon to make denuclearization a precondition.

Looking back through the history of the North Korean nuclear issue, the US has played a quite significant role in resolving the crisis on the peninsula. Any efforts toward denuclearization made by other parties, especially South Korea and North Korea, should also be fully recognized. History has made it clear that tough resolutions will not work in addressing the nuclear issue. The right choice is openness, inclusiveness and consultation. Given more time, perhaps Moon's efforts will work out this time.

The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

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