It was a summit meeting hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough and ended up disappointing many. With surprising speed and warmth, the leaders of two Koreas embraced each other in Pyongyang in 2000, early fifty years after the end of the Korean War without a peace treaty. A vague agreement that would reduce the isolation of the North was reached during the second day of the meeting. President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il were shown on South Korean television clinking champagne glasses, shaking hands vigorously and smiling broadly. However, these were merely symbolisms–hollow acts that lead to a brief detente which the North took advantage of to create nuclear weapons.
The engineer of this meeting in Pyongyang was Kim Dae-jung, above right, the pioneer of the South’s “Sunshine Policy” that stressed the need for engagement and interaction rather than trying to isolate the North. It was a bold move that brought Kim many plaudits and secured him the Nobel Peace Prize (his past as a high-profile political prisoner helped too). However, Kim Dae-jung (1925-2009) who died last week was highly criticized when it became clear that ahead of the meeting he paved the way with secret payments of aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. His obituary in Forbes was extremely scathing.
Dae-jung’s policy clashed directly with those of the then incoming president George W. Bush. Eventually Dae-jung found himself on the losing side. Tired of giving billions of dollars of aid and trade to the Communist North but getting little in return, South Koreans finally abandoned the policies of Mr. Kim and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, by electing Lee Myung-bak, a conservative leader who promised a tougher stance on Pyongyang.
See Time magazine’s tribute to Mr. Kim’s life here. The photo below made the cover of the magazine’s Asian edition back then, under the title, Kim ♥ Kim.