Trouble in Korea

Two South Korean sailors watch the amphibious assault ship USS Blue Ridge arrive in Busan, May 5, 2010
Two South Korean sailors watch the amphibious assault ship USS Blue Ridge arrive in Busan, May 5, 2010 (US Navy/Bobbie G. Attaway)

With American secretary of state Hillary Clinton underway to the East Asia, a crisis is looming in the waters of the Yellow Sea where a South Korean corvette sunk last March, killing 46. South Koreans authorities have ascertained that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the sinking. The North has denied any involvement, threatening with “all out war” should the South respond militarily. The White House agreed that the sinking constituted an “act of aggression” that is “one more instance of North Korea’s unacceptable behavior and defiance of international law.”

The ROKS Cheonan went down near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border on March 27. Tensions flared between the two Koreas that remain formally at war but the issue faded until this Thursday when international investigators, including experts from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States, found that the remains of the torpedo that sunk the Cheonan “perfectly match” those of a CHT-02D torpedo which North Korea sells abroad. What’s more, markings were found similar to those engraved on a previously recovered North Korean torpedo.

“The discovery,” reports The Economist, “combined with intelligence reports indicating North Korean submarines were out of port during the attack, allowed the investigators to conclude on May 20th that the Cheonan ‘was sunk as the result of an external underwater explosion caused by a torpedo made in North Korea.'”

The news has sent shockwaves through the region with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announcing “firm, responsive measures against the North.” South Korean stocks and currency plummeted on Thursday amid mounting fears of a renewed confrontation.

It will become harder for North Korea’s sole, though lukewarm ally in the region, China, not to accept the regime’s culpability. A senior official in Beijing reportedly called the incident “very unfortunate” while The Wall Street Journal quotes a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman as calling on all parties to “stay calm and exercise restraint — to avoid escalation of the situation.”

Secretary Clinton is set to meet officials in Beijing on Monday and Tuesday in what are likely to become some pretty uncomfortable diplomatic meetings for the Chinese. Previous attempts to impose UN sanctions on North Korea have been thwarted by the belief that China would veto them. With the regime in Pyongyang so unmistakably exposed an an aggressor in recent days, Chinese leaders will be hard pressed to maintain their position when they confere with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts on May 29 and 30. So far, China has only supported economic penalties against the North, reluctantly.

In the wake of the Cheonan sinking, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a hasty trip to Beijing to beg for continued economic support. “At that point, Beijing had an excuse,” according to The Economist, “in public at least, to take his claims of innocence at face value. It no longer does.”

Beyond diplomatic measures, South Korea’s retaliatory options are limited. The country may break remaining business ties with the North or close off a shipping shortcut to North Korean vessels though considering the regime’s bellicosity in response to the incident — “Our army and people will promptly react to any ‘punishment’ and ‘retaliation’ and to any ‘sanctions’ infringing upon our state interests with various forms of tough measures” — and the danger of the United States being dragged into a new war between the two Koreas, it seems more likely that former businessman turned president Lee won’t push for aggressive measures that threaten to upset politicos in the Hermit Kingdom.

The South Korean people don’t seem into a fight either, notes The Economist. “Indeed, despite a national outpouring of grief, the senseless attack aroused surprisingly few public demonstrations of wrath with the North.”

With an election for local and provincial seats scheduled in less than two weeks, the incident has been caught up in the political fray. The opposition alleges that Lee and his ruling party timed the investigation to influence voting on June 2. In either event, the president may expect to gain victory which economically, at least, is good news for the South which has expertly weathered the global turndown under Lee’s leadership.

Comments

  • For justice to serve due process must be given.

    1) You cannot be the prosecutor, the one that dealt with the evidence and lastly as well as you are the judge

    2) Who the those persons whose identity merely refers to as “experts” said that it is a “perfect match”? Why is it that the South Korean that dealt with this case refused so-called experts from China, Russia and even North Korea for examination. Why not published their finding in the net, so that the whole international community may come either to aid or to dispute so called “expert finding”.

    2A) It is not impossible that expert can be bribed, instigated, threatened or persuaded to form one opinion over the other. Otherwise even where the evidence is so clear, there is always experts evidence coming from the other side.

    2B) Expert opinion is NOT BINDING to the judges. Notwithstanding whatever “perfect match” opinion, the question is for the judge to decide, not expert. Therefore who sit on the bench is important on these question –
    Currently in the article or up-to-this time the judges would be President Obama, the South Korean military, the US military and Secretary of State and at most (which is doubted) leaders in the G7 just before Obama go for the G-20 summit.

    2C) President Obama bombarded Hu Jintao of “wilful blindness”. Is Obama blind of Hu blind? Obama does not even give the North Korean a right to be heard (which they flatly denied anything to do with the Cheonan), another breach of natural justice. Even at the UN did not pin-point the culprit is the North Korean

    3) Had the evidence been manipulated or interfered? The South Korean military had refused access to pro- or sympathizer North Korea countries to view such evidence. Why such secrecy? If a Professor in Korea University can falsify that he successfully clone a mammal few years ago, what kind of integrity would be on those South Korean military who had a ax to grind against their North Korea counterpart.Do you smell a rat? I do!!!

    4)How did the torpedo CHT-02D comes about? since North Korea had been selling this in open or not-so-open market, so it is not impossible for the South Korean military to get a hand on these torpedoes through a third party.

    5)Though it is true the North Korea leaders may not give much priority to lives of ordinary citizens, but it does nor meant that they will go for such dangerous expedition that not only can it provoke a war but also had all the seamen killed unnecessary if their sub were to be detected by American or South Korean ASW (if that is what happened as alleged)

    6)The question here is still WIDELY open on what causes the sinking of the Cheonan. Thank you

  • For justice to serve due process must be given.

    “Due process” in international relations? Let the United Nations take care of that, I say. Oh right, they wouldn’t even condemn North Korea for the incident, let alone take action.

    And just how is “due process” serving the North Korean people, by the way? Why should the West, which, by any account, has been extremely patient with North Korea already, try to play fair when the North flat out ignores international treaty and holds it people captive in what is little better than a slave society?

    Why is it that the South Korean that dealt with this case refused so-called experts from China, Russia and even North Korea for examination.

    Why, don’t you suppose there may be a bit of a conflict of interest with Chinese and North Korean experts?! There were investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States. I don’t know who they were, but I’m rather more inclined to trust them than “experts” from North Korea. Imagine that! First they sink your ship and then you’d invite them in to verify the sinking? What do you suppose they’ll say?

    Why not published their finding in the net, so that the whole international community may come either to aid or to dispute so called “expert finding”.

    Perhaps because they’d rather not have the entire world knowing how to sink South Korean ships? Perhaps because they’d rather not have the entire world knowing about the exact composition of North Korean weapons?

    It is not impossible that expert can be bribed, instigated, threatened or persuaded to form one opinion over the other.

    And here you just suggested that North Korean experts be included in the team. You think they would be fair but that Western experts be “bribed” and “threatened”? I think you have the world upside down, sir.

    Just out of curiosity, what possible motive could the South Koreans or the Americans for that matter have for bribing investigative officials? Do you suppose either of these countries wants another confrontation with North Korea? Hardly!

    Expert opinion is NOT BINDING to the judges.

    We’re not talking about a trial, Joseph. We’re talking about the real world, where North Korea, a regime on the verge of collapse armed with nuclear weapons and missiles aimed at Seoul, just sunk a South Korean warship. Are you saying they should go to court? And what court for that matter?

    The South Korean military had refused access to pro- or sympathizer North Korea countries to view such evidence. Why such secrecy?

    Probably because they don’t want these countries to know how one of their warships was sunk. Selfish of them, isn’t it?

    If a Professor in Korea University can falsify that he successfully clone a mammal few years ago, what kind of integrity would be on those South Korean military who had a ax to grind against their North Korea counterpart.Do you smell a rat? I do!!!

    You do? Why, because one college professor lied, all South Koreans are liars? I’m not convinced.

    since North Korea had been selling this in open or not-so-open market, so it is not impossible for the South Korean military to get a hand on these torpedoes through a third party.

    So what, they torpedoed their own ship? Why?

    Though it is true the North Korea leaders may not give much priority to lives of ordinary citizens […]

    Not “much priority”? Are you kidding? Here, read this, please. The North Korean people are all dying a slow death because of the complete and utter lack of regard for human life on the part of their so-called leaders.

    […] but it does nor meant that they will go for such dangerous expedition that not only can it provoke a war but also had all the seamen killed unnecessary if their sub were to be detected by American or South Korean ASW (if that is what happened as alleged)

    Yes, actually. Read: Why North Korea will keep inventing crisis.

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