The United States isn't the only country with a looming presidential contest. South Koreans will go to the polls in December. But no matter who wins, it seems that Seoul's North Korea policy will take an unfortunate U-turn.
A few years back, incumbent President Lee Myung-bak made the South's aid to the North contingent upon Pyongyang taking steps to end its nuclear program. When that didn't happen, the South cancelled things like economic aid and tourist activities, effectively ending a $1 billion annual subsidy. Some called it "hard-line." I called it common sense. It was also refreshing to see South Korea begin speaking out against North Korea's atrocious human rights abuses.
But this has fallen out of vogue it seems. All three of South Korea's presidential contenders have said they would reverse course, including the conservative. One candidate "seeks a return to the few-questions-asked economic assistance of liberal presidents of the past," reports the Journal. History says it'll be "no questions asked."
This will mark a return to South Korea's failed "Sunshine Policy" that started in the late 1990s. Sunshine placed engagement with North Korea above all else. North Korea wasn't pressed to end its nuclear program and Seoul ignored its gulag imprisonment of over 200,000. This didn't bring any sunlight to North Korea, but it did deliver billions to the dangerous and brutal regime over the decade. The South wanted to keep talking, while the North was glad to pocket the cash and build bombs.
As readers know, the only thing that has gotten us closer to peace and stability in Northeast Asia is when North Korea has been pressured, with us using financial tools to defend against its proliferation of nuclear technology and ballistic missiles, and its other illegal activity.
But I guess the tendency to push threats to the side and not deal with unpleasant realities has won out, at least for now Democratic South Korea will make its choice. That is clear. Less clear is what it will mean for spotlighting human rights atrocities and changing North Korean behavior. Nothing good if we stare at the sun.