[Viewpoint]It’s time to draw the lineThe Northern Limit Line (NLL) was drawn on Aug. 30, 1953, and has played the role of a sea border between South and North Korea ever since.
Why was the line established? South Korean troops and United Nations soldiers controlled all of the sea areas on both sides of the peninsula in July 1951, when the military armistice talks to end the Korean War began.
However, the UN and communist sides could not find a solution to the maritime demarcation line in the Yellow Sea, as the difference in each side’s position was too large.
Article 2, Clause 15 of the Armistice Agreement, which was signed before the settlement of the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, stipulates that “The maritime military troops shall respect the military demarcation line on land and surrounding sea areas, and shall not seal off any area on the Korean Peninsula.”
If a maritime border had been drawn based on the sea area where UN troops dominated, North Korea would have been sealed off. But that would have violated the Armistice Agreement.
Gen. Mark Wayne Clark, the commander of the UN forces in Korea, announced the Northern Limit Line one month after the signing of the armistice.
It was his judgment that the armistice agreement could be observed in the Yellow Sea, too, only if the activities of the superior Marines and Navy troops of the UN and South Korean forces were put under control so they didn’t attack North Korean forces.
The Yellow Sea line was drawn by joining 12 coordinates that run along the middle of five Yellow Sea islands that were occupied by UN forces in the North Korean area, starting at the mouth of the Han River.
The Northern Limit Line also has a solid foundation in international law. Article 121 of the UN convention on the Law of the Sea clearly states, “Islands where people are economically active shall have their own territorial waters.”
The Northern Limit Line has again sparked hot debate in Korea. It became an issue right after the announcement that Seoul and Pyongyang had agreed to hold a second summit meeting soon.
First, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung provoked the controversy by saying, “The Northern Limit Line should not be regarded as a territorial border.”
The Grand National Party and the conservative civic organizations reacted fiercely against him, and one could even sense there were conflicting reactions within the government.
Then, government officials and pro-Roh Moo-hyun forces jumped into the debate.
The main points of their argument is that there is a need to discuss the resettlement of the Northern Limit Line with North Korea to secure peace on the Yellow Sea, since the South-North Basic Agreement signed in 2000 states that both sides should continue to have consultations on the maritime military demarcation line.
It sounds persuasive in a way, but fundamentally there are things that I cannot understand.
First, why do they overlook the fact that South and North Korea have already been debating the issue?
The Northern Limit Line issue has been debated several times at inter-Korean military generals’ meetings and at working-level military talks. Yet, both sides have failed to find a contact point because the difference in their positions is too big.
It is also questionable why, among all of the basic inter-Korean agreements that the North has discarded, South Korea is eager to solve the only one in which North Korea is demanding a solution.
The South-North Basic Agreement includes numerous agreements, supplementary agreements and joint declarations.
There are also other important agreements that have become mere scraps of paper due to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
They are the “Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” “Agreement on the Establishment of a South and North Korean Joint Military Committee,” and “Agreement on the Establishment of a South and North Korean Contact Office,” etc.
These are the agreements that would have played a crucial role in establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, if only one of them were implemented properly.
It is dubious why, among all varieties of inter-Korean agreements, they singled out the clause that “South and North Korea shall continue to have consultations on the inviolable maritime border.” (This is Clause 10 of the supplementary agreement for the implementation and observation of the inter-Korean non-aggression agreements.)
It appears that they want to debate the resettlement of the Northern Limit Line, as demanded by North Korea, while turning their backs on the rest of the agreements that are not advancing because of the North’s rejection.
Therefore, it is natural that the South Koreans are suspicious. Some are even raising suspicions that a behind-the-scenes deal about the Northern Limit Line was reached during the discussions even before the summit meeting was announced.
Regardless, the issue will be presented by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the summit meeting.
However, the resettlement of the Northern Limit Line is not an issue that can be agreed upon during a summit meeting.
We must propose to the North that it resume the inter-Korean defense ministers’ meeting, which North Korea is not consenting to do, as soon as possible and discuss the Northern Limit Line issue there, along with the joint fishery zone issue.
The government should stop fanning the debate on the Northern Limit Line, because it will only divide public opinion.
* The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-hee