Monday, May 24, 2010

Korean Peninsula could still explode

As our World page banner story narrates, South Korea on Monday “halted trade with North Korea as part of a package of reprisals for the sinking of one of its warships, drawing strong us support but threats of attack from the communist state.”
South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak has also banned the North’s commercial ships from South Korean waters. He also vowed to take the North’s attack last March 26, which killed 46 South Korean navy men, to the United Nations Security Council and seek punishment for the Stalinist Pyongyang government.

North Korea has denied any responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan. It warned that any action against it based on this “false accusation” and “fabricated evidence” could lead to “all-out war.”

The South Korean Cheonan, a 1,200-ton corvette, was sunk while on antisubmarine warfare patrol in South Korean waters near the Northern Limit Line, a sea border North Korea does not recognize. The ship was hit by an underwater explosion, broke in two and quickly sank in 45-meter-deep waters. The South Koreans managed to salvage the ship but lost another sailor during the rescue operations.

South Korea sees this attack as one of the worst provocations since the end of the 1950 to 1933 Korean War.

This makes the Korean Peninsula a powder keg.

The tension we are now witnessing is different from earlier ones that the world community has seen to be customary for Kim Jong-Il’s regime.

What Pyongyang has done is something that cannot be ignored, like other milder forms of the north’s aggression against the south.

Indeed, as President Lee told his people, Seoul has “repeatedly tolerated the north’s brutality.” But things are different now. The North has to be taught to behave more decently.

It was not just South Korean investigators that saw Pyongyang’s hand in torpedoing the SK corvette.
President Lee must be praised for having moved tactfully on this outrage. South Korea asked an international team of experts to investigate the attack. The team was made up of experts from South Korea, Britain, Australia, Sweden and the United States.

The team reached its conclusion last Thursday. It announced seeing “overwhelming evidence that a North Korean submarine fired a heavy torpedo which sank the Cheonan near the disputed border.”

The evidence seen includes the condition of the sunken ship. The hull was bent upward. This is what happens to a ship when a torpedo has exploded close to it.

The salvage teams also found at or near the recovery site fragments of a torpedo, among these its propulsion motor, propellers and the steering section. These are verifiably parts of torpedoes North Korea sells to other countries. A handwritten marking on a recovered part matches the marking on a North Korean torpedo the South Koreans had gotten hold of some years ago.

Several minisubmarines and a mother ship was also known to have left a North Korean naval base a few days before the attack on the Cheonan and returned to the base a couple of days afterward. South Korean investigators confirmed that all submarines from neighboring countries were either in or near their respective home bases at the time of the incident.

A South Korean intelligence report had also noticed the strange rehabilitation of a disgraced North Korean general, a war hero and favorite of Kim Jong-Il. He had apparently lost his stars when he failed in a mission to do the usual harassment of a South Korean outpost last year. Then after the sinking of the Cheonan this general was seen in public wearing his usual rank decorations. Pyongyang watchers could only conclude that this general, known to be in charge of operations against the South, had merited his rehabilitation because he had commanded the attack on the SK corvette.

Many nations, including the United States and Japan, have condemned the attack.

US President Barack Obama has ordered a review of his administration’s North Korea policy. He has commanded his armed forces to work closely with South Korea “to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression.”

Level-headed diplomacy required

What the situation demands, however, is level-headed diplomacy—not anger and war-mongering from South Korea, Thank God, President Lee—while asking the North to apologize—is not asking allies to punish the North militarily. President Lee knows that even brief and light military action against the North could escalate.
What he seeks is for the UN to impose more severe sanctions against Pyongyang. The US and Japan are squarely behind South Korea on this.

But, as usual, North Korea’s ally and loyal friend and benefactor, is against more sanctions against Pyongyang.

China for sure also sees that North Korea is guilty. But it has other motivations and concerns.

It does not want to lose the advantage of having Pyongyang as a counterweight to Seoul, which is politically close to the US and friendlier to Japan than to China. Of course, China is now more intimate with South Korea—in terms of trade and investment—than ever before. But Beijing has geopolitical reasons to have North Korea, Stalinist as it is, alive and well where it is.

Then China also sees something many other countries also see. It does not want Pyongyang humbled, cornered and provoked into more irrational behavior.

Stability is what China wishes to preserve around it. Stability guarantees peaceful business in Northeast Asia.

So, South Korea, the US, Japan and the world community should all work together to persuade China to be a stronger voice in dealing with Pyongyang—for the sake of stability. Editorial, Manila Times

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