Politics does to morality what a magnet does to a compass. It confuses its sense of direction. The best example of this can be seen in the famous picture of the big three at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Churchill and Roosevelt, two giants of democracy, sit and laugh with Stalin, the monster tyrant of the gulag. Hitler was their common political enemy, so that made them for the time being allies. The U.S. war propaganda machine referred to Stalin as “Uncle Joe.” This helped make the alliance more acceptable to the American people.
Politics is what is directing Kim Dae Jung’s summit invitation to Kim Jong Il. The “Uncle Joe” terminology used this time around to make the summit more palatable for South Koreans is the word “reunification.” Like the Yalta Conference which gave Stalin free reign over Eastern Europe to terrorize to his heart’s content, the Pyongyang-Seoul summits will give Kim Jong Il complete international legitimacy as he continues abusing his own people with impunity.
Assuming arguendo that this is the case, why does the S. Korean president still insist on a reciprocal visit? Certainly it has much to do with Kim Dae Jung not wanting to lose face for being seen as a dupe of Kim Jong Il who has done all the receiving with no cost to himself.
But a fuller explanation lies in the fact that Kim Dae Jung has become the first truly South Korean president in modern Korean history. Unlike previous presidents, Kim Dae Jung wants an amicable political divorce from the North, not reunification.
Consider the case of China and Taiwan. Beijing’s Jiang Zemin rejected Taiwan’s call for a summit meeting made soon after Kim Dae Jung’s visit to Pyongyang. The reason was that Beijing saw what the Pyongyang summit signified, that is, de facto mutual recognition between two sovereign nations, and that was anathema to the PRC’s one China doctrine.
Kim Dae Jung insists on Kim Jong Il visiting Seoul in order to consummate the divorce between the North and the South. Kim Jong Il welcomed Kim Dae Jung’s visit because it all but assured the crumbling Pyongyang regime that they had no fear of being absorbed by the South. Kim Dae Jung welcomes Kim Jong Il to Seoul because the dictator will be less likely to further abuse a country that he has just officially respected with his attendance. This is all consistent with Kim Dae Jung’s downplaying of the human rights abuses in North Korea. Kim Dae Jung has given up custody of the North to Kim Jong Il, and how he treats his people is his responsibility.
Therefore, foreign diplomats should no longer wonder aloud why the South is so silent on the concentration camps and cult-like oppression of the North. Kim Dae Jung’s main and only concern now is the safety and prosperity of the South.
Whether Kim Dae Jung’s sunshine policy is wrong or not depends on one’s own political point of view. But from a N. Korean human rights standpoint, the sunshine policy is at heart selfish and dishonest. It is selfish because the policy voids the South of any responsibility of the domestic oppression in the North. It matters not that most of the South’s aid goes to the North’s military and Pyongyang elite rather than to the starving and impoverished. So long as the North respects the South’s sovereignty through no more bombings or submarine incursions, that is enough reason to continue paying the North. The policy is dishonest because it continues to refer to these payments as “humanitarian assistance.”
The policy is also dishonest because it gives the false impression of being a step toward reunification. 100 monitored family reunions (the only time Kim Jong Il favors monitoring of any sort), and a visit by the South’s leader to Pyongyang have been displayed as evidence that the sunshine policy is bringing the peninsula closer toward reunification. But this is as disingenuous as stating that an ex-husband’s weekly visit to his kids is evidence of his reuniting with his wife.
Kim Dae Jung’s sunshine policy is not out of the ordinary. Self-interest is the basis for all countries’ foreign policies. For example, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin did not join for humanitarian reasons to stop Hitler’s Holocaust but to stop him from intruding into their own sovereign territory. To say otherwise would be “Uncle Joe”-like political posturing.
However what makes Kim Dae Jung’s recent efforts to get Kim Jong Il to visit Seoul unique in modern Korean history is that the rights of North Koreans are no longer considered in South Korea’s own self-interest. To say that such a visit is for the purpose of reunification or that it will end up helping the citizens of North Korea is base propaganda. One need only look at the example in history that this essay began with. During the 45 years after the Yalta Conference, no amount of wishful thinking could cover over the tens of millions of killings done at the hands of dear old Uncle Joe