Reflections on the Sunshine Policy: Ian McGibbon discusses on-going efforts to secure an inter-Korea rapprochement.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian

Imjin-gak is the closest point that tourists in north-western South Korea can get to the Demilitarised Zone without going through control points. The DMZ, as it is known, a 4-kilometre-wide strip separating the two Koreas, lies just beyond the nearby hills on the other side of the Imjin River, no more than 5 kilometres to the west.

At Imjin-gak two recent constructions reflect diverging approaches to the problem of divided Korea. One is the National Memorial for Abductees during the Korean War, a Ministry of Unification museum dedicated to telling the story of the estimated 80,000 South Koreans who were abducted by the North Koreans during their three-month occupation of most the country in June-September 1950 and taken to the north. Belatedly recognised as victims, their families have in recent times been awarded compensation, albeit a small minority of the 80,000.

The museum houses documentary records of North Korean pre-war plans to abduct specific South Korean intellectuals, managers and others that were captured by UN forces during their advance into North Korean territory in 1950. The museum also records North Koreas crimes since the war, including the attempted assassination of the South Korean president in Yangon in a 1983 blast that killed eighteen South Korean ministers and officials. It is hard to come away from this museum without feeling strongly antagonistic to the hermit kingdom north of the DMZ and the brutal dictator who now leads it, Kim Jong Un.

Shortly after we left the museum we heard, in the distance beyond the Imjin River and the hills, a prolonged crackle of rifle fire, culminating in several machine gun bursts. Practice or incident? We had no way of knowing, but the sound reminded us of the menacing possibilities of the border, despite the tourist swirl in our vicinity.

Standing in stark contrast to that disconcerting sound, and the museum, is the resplendent new rail bridge nearby. Running just south of the ruins of the original bridge, destroyed in 1950, it heads towards the North Korean city of Kaesong and reflects the policy of engagement and rapprochement underpinning the current South Korean approach, the revived Sunshine (or Moonshine after President Moon Jae-in) Policy. This aims to normalise intra-Korea relations, as exemplified in the Panmunjom Declaration of the two Korean leaders at their summit on 27 April 2018, the first in eleven years.

The ancient capital Kaesong was part of South Korea till 1950 but is now just north of the DMZ. It was the centre-piece of an economic detente effort, the Kaesong Industrial Zone, formed in 2002. South Korean companies employed thousands of North Korean workers until 2016, when provocative actions by Pyongyang led the South Korean government to withdraw all South Koreans. Both Korean leaders, in September 2018, agreed that the arrangement should be reinstated, though this has not yet happened.

After crossing the Imjin and passing through the control point, visitors can inspect, just short of the DMZ, a gleaming station, Dorasan, whose displays promise the opportunity to take the train all the way from South Korea to Spain via China or Russia--once relations with North Korea are normalised. Within the station is a tableau commemorating the Panmunjom summit. Last December progress on...

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