[TODAY]Deal with the real problemsOur patrol boat’s firing on a North Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea has been overblown, and the focus of the problem has gone wide off the mark in dealing with it.
What is the essence of this problem? The first is whether our navy acted according to the rules of engagement when the North Korean vessel crossed the Northern Limit Line, and whether they properly used the hotline that is there to avoid accidental clashes between South and North Korea.
The second is whether the situation was reported to high-ranking officials through the military chain of command without delay. Apparently, there was no problem in the military operation, but there was a problem in reporting it. That is why President Roh Moo-hyun ordered an additional investigation.
However, the case has strayed into farfetched directions in the past week. There were suspicions that perhaps soldiers who were against President Roh’s reconciliation policy with North Korea attempted sabotage on purpose. A National Assemblyman of the government party even outrageously talked of the military regime-oriented attitude of one-star and two-star generals. It was even suspected that the leaking of the contents of communications exchanged between the North and South Korean navies to the press was the result of organized military resistance against the president.
The agreement to operate a hotline between the North and South Korean militaries was an important step toward stopping accidental clashes at sea. Such an agreement reflected the improvements in inter-Korean relations, which are symbolized by the Mount Geumgang tourism, the installation of the Gaeseong industrial complex and the opening of the railway and land routes between the North and the South.
It has also to do with the reason why the Bush administration has taken softer attitude toward North Korea recently, and with the development of North Korea-Japan relations after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the North. If a hotline with so much meaning was used improperly or was used properly but someone failed to make report on it properly, the truth of the matter should be revealed.
However, if there are suspicions about the military’s attitude towards North Korea while the matter is being investigated, the military could suffer from a loss of morale and be unable to carry out their functions.
The handling of this case could have an effect on inter-Korean relations as well as on the North Korean problem as a whole, including the nuclear problem. Therefore, the case should be handled with care as to not escalate the situation. If we do not make progress in lowering military tensions, we will be limited in how much we can improve in inter-Korean relations. Talks between the generals of North and South Korea did not take place as planned, due to the Yellow Sea incident.
The Bush administration, as part of a re-election strategy for President George W. Bush, is approaching North Korea with a new comprehensive solution, one that the North wanted, to the North’s nuclear weapons development program. The relations between North Korea and Japan also show signs of being on the road to normalizing diplomatic relations.
While North Korea is watching with a complacent smile, a war of attrition continues among the Blue House, political parties, the military and the media, as they blow up the Yellow Sea incident and exchange emotionally charged words. Such actions are counter to a change in the international environment. No system can be satisfactory from the beginning. The hotline system between the North and South Korean vessels just needs to be improved and adjusted through trial and error.
As a result of the Yellow Sea incident leaping to an undesirable direction, people have failed to notice the elements that should be seriously considered. That is why North Korea continuously intrudes on the Northern Limit Line. Is this North Korean military’s resistance against the reconciliation of North and South Korea, or is it a feint operation of Kim Jong-il?
Now is a time when rice is sent to the North, the road to Mount Geumgang is open, and the opening of the Gaeseong industrial complex is imminent. Inter-Korean meetings on minister- and military general-level keep opening. So why is the North continually crossing the NLL?
As we are so much caught up in an internal strife, we have not only failed to get North Korea’s promise not to repeat violations, but also failed to hear an acceptable explanation for it.
If the inter-Korean relationship is a forest, the Yellow Sea incident is a tree. Look at the forest and decide whether to trim or cut the tree. The Blue House and politicians react too lightly and spontaneously to the progression of incidents.
The presidential adviser for national defense criticized some media reports as dividing national opinion and injuring the honor of the military. So is the press to blame again? Are we trying to find a scapegoat in the press? No one will dare to do so unless he or she underestimates the public. Everybody is nervous because of unstable economy, the murder of Kim Sun-il and the debate on the transfer of the capital. It’s time to tackle problems and talk less.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie