[EDITORIALS]Principles and Innocent Passage

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[EDITORIALS]Principles and Innocent Passage

Vessels with North Korean flags openly sailed in our territorial waters Saturday and Sunday. According to an announcement by the joint chiefs of staff, three North Korean commercial ships passed through the Cheju Strait, which is in South Korean waters. The military said one of the ships, encouraged by the South Korean Navy, retreated to international waters on Saturday but two vessels continued to sail in our waters until Sunday. According to our military leaders, the intrusion was intentional.

The right of innocent passage is acknowledged in the Cheju Strait by international law. Non-military foreign vessels are allowed to pass through the strait without prior notice. However, the two Koreas are technically in an odd relationship - a cease-fire. Accordingly, our military says it must take strategic countermeasures if a North Korean vessel enters our waters. The fact that the North, which must clearly know the situation, sent not one but three commercial ships through the strait can be seen as a provocative move to test our will to defend our waters.

We believe the right of innocent passage could be recognized for only North Korean commercial ships that are engaged in economic activities. The strait is a convenient passage for northern ships traversing from one coast to the other or from Japan to the west coast. But there must be prior consultations and agreements, not unilateral intrusions. Isn't that what government-level talks are for?

This year alone, North Korean patrol ships and fishing vessels have crossed over the northern limit line eight times. Each time, the South Korean military let the incidents pass quietly, saying the ships had unintentionally crossed the line. In this incident as well, if our military regulations were strictly applied, we would have arrested the vessels. But because they were harmless civilian ships, our action was limited to ordering them to move to international waters. This lack of firmness was based on inter-Korean rapprochement, we assume, but inter-Korean reconciliation and security arrangements are two sides of the same coin. The government should vigorously protest to the North and indicate that it will take sterner action if such incidents recur.
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