Friday, May 21, 2010

Korea - The Sinking of the Cheonan

Nearly 60 years ago, the Korean War concluded with an armistice. North Korea’s attack on a South Korean navy ship, which killed 46 sailors, is a reminder of the continued fragility and danger of that less-than-peace.

The two Koreas have more than one million troops on their border and the North has thousands of artillery tubes pointed at Seoul. With an erratic (that’s generous) leader like Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, the risk of miscalculation is very high. The fact that Mr. Kim also has nuclear weapons makes it all the more frightening.

South Korea deserves credit for its prudent response to the late March sinking of the Cheonan, which was sailing in disputed waters. Instead of lashing back, it assembled an international team of experts to determine the cause. On Thursday, the government produced forensic evidence that a torpedo sank the ship, including part of a torpedo propeller with what the investigative team says is a North Korean serial number.

The North’s rejection of the findings as a fabrication “orchestrated by the group of traitors” was predictable.

There can be no excuse for this act of aggression. We understand South Korea’s grief and anger. But military retaliation would be disastrous for both countries.
The international community — and most importantly, China — must move quickly to stop things from spinning out of control.

It is impossible to know what will change North Korea’s behavior. It has already shrugged off two rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions since it first detonated a nuclear device in 2006. Still, the Security Council must quickly condemn this barbarism.

The North is not invulnerable. It is hugely dependent on China for fuel and food imports. Beijing needs to immediately condemn the attack and have even tougher private talks with Mr. Kim and his cronies — making clear that its patience and patronage are running out.

China wants to be a world leader but is refusing to act like one. On Thursday, it urged both Koreas to exercise restraint but failed to blame the North. On her visit to Beijing this weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to leave no doubt that China’s goal of a stable Korean peninsula will never be realized this way.

The United States and South Korea are also considering imposing new bilateral sanctions on the North. Washington may reinstate North Korea on its “terrorism” list. That may quiet some of the fury in Seoul (and Washington), but we’re doubtful it will have much impact in Pyongyang, especially when China is so determined to offset any losses.

The United States must ensure that South Korea has the capability and training to deter future attacks. That means more joint naval exercises and a full investigation of how a modern ship — configured for antisubmarine warfare — was caught off-guard and sunk.

Washington and Seoul must not close the door on six-party negotiations, which have not met for more than a year. China will have to use its leverage — we suggest a suspension of oil deliveries — to get Pyongyang back to the table.

We know the talks are a very long shot. They are probably the only chance to peacefully curb North Korea’s nuclear program and finally end the Korean war. Editorial New York Times

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