[OUTLOOK]Losing the island shell game

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[OUTLOOK]Losing the island shell game

President Roh Moo-hyun had a meeting with senior soldiers 10 days ago, at the military headquarters at Kyeryongdae, near Daejeon, about 164 kilometers (101 miles) south of Seoul. The president said that we should enhance inter-Korean relations, putting top priority on security, peace and reunification. He added that the two Koreas’ cooperation should begin with economics and move on to culture and political ties. This was a desirable and normal agenda in general, so the media did not cover this speech as a big news item. As I did not read the script myself, I did not dig into the speech either. However, I learned later that the president said something dangerous at that occasion. He made remarks regarding the Northern Limit Line, a sea border on the Yellow Sea.
President Roh said that in regard to the line, we should find a reasonable way to co-exist. He added that the line was not meant to threaten ourselves but to remove dangerous factors, to decrease pressure and to build trust.
At the end of May, military senior officials of the two Koreas met and talked about, among other things, the test runs of the cross-border railway. North Korean officials demanded that military tensions must be eliminated before the railway can be reopened. The North Koreans cited possible naval clashes on the Yellow Sea as an example of military tensions. This gives some context to President Roh’s remarks that “dangerous factors” should be erased.
Since the 1970s, North Korea has not acknowledged the limit line and has created tension around it. South Korea has abided by its basic stance that the sea border cannot be retouched because that change means redrawing the truce line.
The five remote islands off the west coast just below the sea border are the areas most vulnerable to attack. When looking at the map, the five islands could come under Northern control if the Northern Limit Line were moved southward. Just below the islands is Incheon International Airport, which is the gateway to Seoul. That is why our navy is focused in this area. However, South Korea’s Defense Ministry accepted the North’s suggestion and said that we could negotiate on border issue. Why did this government offer our waters as a subject of negotiations?
After the talks, rumors keep swirling that our government would yield the limit line. Government officials even talk about such concrete plans as, “If we move a little bit southward, North Korea will be satisfied,” and “Let’s make a corridor on the sea and let ships pass along the path.”
While most South Koreans are unaware of it, we wonder if the South Korean government might be already trying to cede part of our waters to the North, under the excuse of easing tensions. The government consists of people who argue that we should understand the Communist regime. The president says that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development programs are for its self-defense. A staff officer at the Blue House says that North Korea’s move to test a missile is actually for a satellite test. Now the president advocates Pyongyang’s position even on the issue of the sea border.
North Korea says that the limit line causes tensions. However, for South Koreans, there could be no more serious and dangerous matters than Pyongyang’s nuclear arms programs and missiles. We need to demand that Pyongyang should not create tensions. But the government does not say anything in response and only accepts the North’s suggestions and arguments. That is why some people accuse the government of being pro-North Korean.
In the meantime, something totally different is going on around the Dokdo islets on the East Sea (Sea of Japan). The president, who is very generous and understanding about the Northern Limit Line, said that we should boost our military deterrence against Japan. He sounded determined, as if we were facing a war with Japan. How many South Koreans worry about Japan’s military threat? He exaggerates the situation with Japan using the Dokdo islets, while blindly embracing the North, which is practically issuing threats. Why can’t the president see North Korea’s threats and why does he see only Japan’s threats?
I wonder if President Roh’s stance on the Dokdo islets is related to the limit line issue. Is he using the Dokdo islets to cover the seriousness of the sea border issue? Can it be that he emphasizes the importance of the Dokdo islets to appear to be taking responsibility for our territory? While doing so, is he attempting to give up our waters on the Yellow Sea? Perhaps all South Koreans will want to see us beat Japan in a war, because of our painful history of the occupation. I wonder if the president manipulates this psychology and make the Dokdo islets, free of threats, into a “crisis area,” while making the sea border of the Yellow Sea look safe, when the truth is the opposite.
The president cannot change the border as he wishes. The Northern Limit Line is our border. The Constitution stipulates that the president has the obligation to protect our territory. Even governing Uri Party members express concern over the administration’s security measures.
We cannot imagine exactly what will happen if the line changes. We urge the president to fulfill his duties under the constitution for the remaining 18 months of his term.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Moon Chang-keuk
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