[EDITORIALS]Confusion in the Yellow SeaControversial questions about communication within the South Korean military have surfaced over the incident last Wednesday in which our ships fired warning shots at a vessel that had been identified as a North Korean patrol boat crossing the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. At first, on Thursday, the military announced that the North Koreans had ignored the South Korean ship’s radio transmissions prior to the shots. Then, on Friday, the military changed its story, stating that the North Koreans had in fact replied to our transmissions, and that this fact had been omitted in the report to the naval authorities.
It now seems that the North Koreans did indeed answer our warnings. But naval officers present at the time claim that the North Korean ship ignored five attempts to make contact before sending a vague message about chasing a Chinese fishing boat that had apparently crossed the demarcation line into South Korean waters.
This North Korean response cannot be seen as having been made in good faith. Moreover, the response was said to have come after 2nd Fleet headquarters gave the command to fire. If a North Korean patrol ship crossed the NLL into South Korean waters, ignoring several warnings, then it was an urgent situation in which the navy’s action was more than appropriate. There seems to be no question of the navy having broken any codes of engagement. The first responsibility lies with the North for having failed to respond immediately.
Yet the Ministry of National Defense made a public apology that seemed to insinuate that we had overreacted to the situation. If this is so, then the officers responsible should most certainly be disciplined. It means that not only was tension unnecessarily aggravated in an area where North and South have clashed before, but a damper has been put on the reconciliatory mood between the Koreas. But if the navy’s reaction was appropriate, it would be a mistake to censure anyone. These are men and women who are protecting our front lines. There will be serious consequences if these officers hesitate in the face of a real crisis. The Blue House has ordered an investigation, and the details will surface sooner or later. But we cannot help wondering whether our military fell for harassing tactics by the North Koreans, aimed at loosening our security in the NLL area and causing confusion in the military communication lines.