The Consequences of the Sunshine Policy


President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea developed a policy in 1998 to moderate North Korea’s stance toward the country. The concept was inspired by traditional Korean techniques of dealing with adversaries, such as offering presents to dissuade them from harming others. The approach arose due to rising economic disparities between the two Koreas, with the North being serious with economic failure while the South was creating its nation thanks to economic prosperity during President Park Chung’s administration from the 1970s through the 1990s. North Korea was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. It was devoting a large portion of its resources to its military and nuclear programs, causing prevalent starvation among its citizens. The Sunshine Policy was designed to bridge the economic divide between the two countries and improve contact. This strategy was in effect until 2008 when the Rho Moo administration Hyun’s tenure ended. Despite making significant progress, the sunshine policy has proven to fail.

What effect has the Sunshine Policy had on the Korean Peninsula?


The Sunshine Policy seems to have encouraged cultural interactions and active economic between the two countries, as well as reinforced inter-Korean associations in many ways. . When North Korea took a hostile stance against the South, global investors regarded the South Korean market as unbalanced and billions of dollars departed in a single day. For South Korea, there was also a considerable economic benefit. The IMF had recently bailed out South Korea at the outset of Kim Dea’s presidency. Therefore the South had to avoid an aggressive stance with the North. In this sense, South Korea’s economic recovery from its low point was supported by the policy of cohabitation and reconciliation (DIENNA, 2019). The Sunshine Policy had more defined and broad goals than any former North Korean policy. In addition to directly impacting inter-Korean relations, the Sunshine Policy was extremely beneficial to the South Korean economy.


Many people criticized the initiative, believing that the North was manipulating the South with a “stick-and-carrot” strategy. One South boat was sunk, six sailors were killed, and 19 were injured in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong in 2002, one of more than ten significant armed provocations by North Korea. Following these incidents, there was considerable criticism that South Korea’s financial support, similar to West Germany’s help to East Germany, was used to develop nuclear weapons and military forces rather than humanitarian causes for North Korean residents.

According to some conservatives, the Sunshine Policy has weakened the US-South Korean relationship over the last decade. By closing with North Korea and providing massive financial aid to the North, the ROK-US relationship deteriorated or halted, limiting the South Korean economy’s potential in the early 2000s. Finally, some detractors claim that the Democrats employed the Sunshine Policy to gain an electoral advantage in Southern politics, but this is questionable (DIENNA, 2019).

Did it accomplish what it set out to do?

The major goal of the policy was to unstiffen North Korea’s place toward the South by fostering contact and offering economic support. According to three basic precepts that guided national security strategy, no armed incitement by the North shall be acknowledged. In any form, the South will not strive to captivate the North. In the South, collaboration and resolution are actively sought and fostered. These concepts were intended to convey that the South’s goal is peaceful coexistence rather than regime change, rather than absorbing the North or undermining its leadership. During this strategy, the effort to avoid using the phrase reunification in favor of a more nuanced statement is compatible with encouraging integration rather than absorption (Straub, 2018).

North Korea’s regime was well aware of widespread concerns that forced incorporation or collaboration with the global community would strip the country of its national identity. Two other essential policy elements were also identified by Kim’s administration (Bae, 2020). The parting of economics and politics was the first. In truth, the South’s commercial sector was granted wider liberty to invest in North Korea, but its role was confined to humanitarian assistance. The original goal was to boost the North’s economy while also causing a shift in its economic policies; however, the second goal was eventually (at least publicly) dropped.

The second component was the North’s demand for reciprocity. The two countries were expected to treat each other as equals at first, making concerns and conciliations as necessary. The South’s considerable backtracking on this premise in the face of unforeseen North-South resistance was the source of most of the strategy’s criticism. It came to an end barely two months into the Sunshine period when South Korea requested the building of a family reunion center in exchange for fertilizer help; North Korea decried this as horse-trading, and the discussions were terminated. A year later, the South stated that its objective would be “flexible reciprocity” based on Confucian principles; as the relationship’s “older brother,” the South would give support without seeking immediate or precise reciprocity (DIENNA, 2019).

The South also promised to send humanitarian aid without expecting anything in return. Despite persistent shortages and economic difficulties, the policy was based on the assumption that the North’s government would not fall, crumble, or change itself, even if the South applied great pressure. Military tensions were meant to be reduced by bilateral and international accords. It is vital to normalize economic and political relations between the US, North Korea, and Japan (Choi, 2018).

Have the two countries’ relations improved?

The context of South Korea’s choice to collaborate with North Korea instead of taking a traditional stance implies a change in internal politics. After the Cold War, the Sunshine Policy “ushered in an age of extraordinary perplexity in South Korea on whether to designate North Korea as an ally or enemy.” As a result of the policy, there has been increased political contact between the two nations and several significant events in inter-Korean relations (Choi, 2018).

Many conservative South Korean observers believe that the Sunshine Policy is to blame for the deterioration of the US-South Korean alliance; they claim that it has directed the South to prioritize the North’s benefits above those of its friend, the United States and that it has steered South Korean politicians to awkwardly voiceless and censor condemnation of the North, even disregarding the sacrifices of their soldiers, to evade displeasing the North. They claim that this is counterproductive to the South’s national interest in staying a US ally and jeopardizes the prospects for a peaceful and smooth reunion. The South Korean government has been chastised internationally and domestically for frequently abstaining from UN votes denouncing North Korea’s human rights record. The administration justifies the abstentions by claiming that inter-Korean ties are unique. South Korea’s motivations for this strategy have sparked conspiracy theories. According to one North Korean defector who worked on weapons systems, South Korean intelligence intended to keep one North Korean defector’s account concealed because it would doubt the policy (Straub, 2018).

Is it possible to call this policy a success?

Kim Dae-Jung, a North Korean journalist and defector who lived nine years in a North Korean prison camp, made a mistake by assisting the North Korean regime without requiring the North to improve its human rights. “It’s crucial to recognize that North Koreans are starved not as a consequence of a shortage of help from South Korea or the United States, but as a result of a denial of freedom,” Kang continues, refuting assertions that the Sunshine Policy has resulted in a peaceful agreement between the North and the South. Aid serves to draw a line in the sand with the government while also prolonging hunger, which is a blatant contradiction (Malevich, 2020).

Furthermore, the concept of “flexible reciprocity” has been challenged as an unattainable objective that will eventually result in hurdles in inter-Korean cooperation. Instead of considering North Korea as a full equal to its might, South Korea took the stand that the resilient party should pause until the weaker party has increased sufficient capacity to reciprocate. The ‘time-differential’ in the collaboration between the two countries failed, in theory, help to restore trust and cooperation but instead caused additional issues such as a lack of transparency and an interruption in fully understanding the policy’s consequences, which did not profit the general public (Choi, 2018).

Criticizers argue that the Sunshine Policy was implemented for domestic political gain in South Korea rather than to increase the possibilities of reunification or to harm North Korea’s dictatorship. They argue that the North’s continued criminal activities and aggravation. Critics also believe that the South must request that the North release imprisoned South Koreans and the remnants of POWs from the Korean War in exchange for humanitarian assistance. Some regard the Kaesong Industrial Park as little more than a means for large South Korean corporations to hire lower-cost workers (Bae, 2020).

International repercussions

North Korea’s military and nuclear posture improved due to the Sunshine Policy. North Korea’s leadership, according to Kim Suk-young, is “both powerful and fragile,” is influenced by “both outside and interior influences,” and is impacted by its interactions with other countries when deciding whether or not to militarize and nuclearize. The North Korean administration has yet to decide on a course of action. He also noted that North Korea has never altered its behavior in response to international pressure to become more peaceful. It is unlikely to do so in the future (Straub, 2018). When relating the frequency of North Korean missile and nuclear tests through the Sunshine approach period to the current unfavorable policy enacted since the Lee government, the idea that the Sunshine Policy reduced tensions may be warranted. In the eight years after 2008, North Korea has piloted five nuclear tests and eight missile launches, compared to one nuclear test and three missile launches before 2008. However, this could suggest that the North has developed the necessary technical abilities to perform large-scale nuclear and missile tests in 2008.

The restoration of the Sunshine Policy has been called the “Moonshine Policy” in honor of President Moon Jae’s efforts to re-establish contact with North Korea and coordinate with Washington. While Moon deserves praise for his hard work to bring and uphold peace to the Korean Peninsula, growing military tensions between South Korea and the US have harmed inter-Korean affairs since 2019. The disarmament of North Korea has been halted since 2019, but weapons testing has escalated (Malevich, 2020). South Korea halted support freights to the North and placed its forces on high alert on October 9, 2006, ahead of the nuclear and missile tests. There was great anxiety about how South Korea could sustain a supportive strategy toward the North in the face of such provocative behavior. Nonetheless, the South Korean government insisted on preserving key features of the Sunshine Policy (Bae, 2020).


The sunshine strategy has been a failure, despite significant advances. The Sunshine Policy is no longer in effect, but the South Korean government has yet to make an official announcement. The South Korean government is taking a more cautious approach to North Korea. True, the Sunshine Policy opened up new possibilities for inter-Korean relations, probed the potential of inter-Korean relations, and stabilized East-Asian security. However, it is clear that North Korea’s terrain has shifted considerably, and selecting between the two extremes of confrontationist and embracer is a mistake. Not only for South Korea or East Asia but also global peace, the South and the rest of the world should collaborate to find the most effective solution.