First, if Germany’s Ostpolitik provides any advice, there is no option besides engagement if you want to reach the people of North Korea and improve their lives. At the same time, Seoul may want to draw some lessons from its Sunshine Policy, which was primarily based on large-scale economic projects. While the basic principles of the Sunshine Policy still hold, there is a case to be made to change the design and execution of the Sunshine Policy. As it stands, Pyongyang is in a very comfortable position to slow down or freeze projects at will, which makes Seoul vulnerable to North Korean pressure. A comparison with the Chinese engagement strategy is instructive here, because it is driven by market-based and local-level interactions and has generated a degree of “local liberalism.”
And second, there is a clear need to think about consultation mechanisms other than the framework of the six-party talks to give South Korea more effective strategic levers for engagement with the United States, China and North Korea. Forming a US-South Korea-North Korea consultation mechanism would be a step in the right direction, along with intensified consultations with China about the fundamentals of unification.
Jochen Prantl is director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy and an associate professor of international relations at Australian National University.
Hyun-Wook Kim is an associate professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
This essay first appeared in Global Asia, a journal of the East Asia Foundation, with which Strategic Review has a content-sharing agreement.