(…)It is reasonable to think that Seoul would do well to resume, perhaps under another name, the famous “Sunshine” policy put forward by the late President Kim Dae-jung (Nobel Peace 2000) and his Unification Minister and current President of Kyungnam University, Park Jae Kyu (2009 laureate of the Fondation Chirac’s Special Jury Prize for Conflict Prevention). The policy was actively pursued by the late President Roh Moo-hyun until Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party (GNP) arrived to power in December 2007.
This policy, which some have described as angelic, or at least as a form of irenic optimism, allowed promising initiatives to develop, such as the 2007 restoration of an inter-Korean rail link; access for South Korean tourists to certain areas like the Kumgang Mountains and Mount Paektu; or the creation of economic regions in the North such as the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where Southern manufactures could establish themselves. At the very least, the “Sunshine” policy opened between 2000 and 2008 a period of relative calm that encouraged the hope for greater North-South cooperation. It was even possible to start believing that ultimately, a sufficiently flexible form of unification (minimal federal constraints for the North or a commonwealth for the South) could be achieved that would reassure both sides. While the provocations of the North did try the South’s patience; this did not prevent progress from being made. The GNP‘s coming to power led to the scrapping of the policy of gradual rapprochement, which has contributed to the multiplication of serious incidents like the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010 and the bombing by the North in November of the same year, of the island of Yeonpyeong (a territory claimed by both countries),
However, these tragic clashes should not make obscure the trend – with its ups and downs – that has emerged over the past ten years chronicling the improvement in the more or less long-term relations between Seoul and Pyongyang. Factors that allow us to hope for such developments abound. Korea (North and South combined) offers, with Iceland, one of the few examples of an essentially homogeneous country, both ethnically and linguistically. South Korea is reluctant to engage in a potentially devastating armed conflict which could annihilate the spectacular progress of its economy. As for the North, it is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. Of course, China continues to support it, though, it seems, with less enthusiasm than in the past. China too is reluctant to engage in a conflict that would undermine its own development and the role of a great power that it is about to assume. Finally, what separates the two Koreas is essentially an ideological conflict. History has taught us that ideologies can wither or evolve, under the blows of technological progress, especially in communications. It is, I think, realistic to expect that 5000 years of common national identity will overcome 60 years of ideological differences.
The inter-Korean conflict is often referred to as a”frozen conflict” and we must not expect a rapid thaw. Of course, anything can happen, including an abrupt destabilization of the current regime in Pyongyang, either through a coup of the hard-core, old military guard or with a popular uprising. However, even if it is risky to pronounce firm suppositions on the future directions of North Korean policy, it clearly appears that the lines of force mentioned above, more than the rise to power of Kim Jong-un, will shape the future of relations between the two Koreas.