Hold the linePeople are showing keen interest in the ministerial-level military talks that will open tomorrow in Pyongyang. The interest comes largely because the two defense chiefs will discuss a broad “zone of peace” to be established around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea. They will also discuss security guarantees to promote economic cooperation between the South and North.
The first order of business for the talks should be to insist that the NLL is a legitimate border. Only with that understanding can we set up joint fishing areas and see progress in establishing a direct route into Haeju port for North Korean ships, a move that would help the North. If South Korea’s representatives fail to receive strong assurances from the North that it will observe the NLL, they will deserve strong criticism back home. It will not be enough to just announce a joint fishing area.
After the inter-Korean summit talks were over in October, Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo remarked, “Establishing a joint fishing area is only meaningful when there is a marine boundary line.” We have no doubt that he will stay firm on this point.
The construction of a special economic zone in Haeju, the joint development of the Han River estuary and the creation of a joint fishing zone are all desirable for the development of South-North relations ― if they are carried out successfully. However, anything that affects the security relationship between the South and North should be handled very carefully.
The government must keep in mind that if the North tries to redraw or neutralize the NLL by shouting “peace” recklessly, it could end up escalating tensions rather than advancing the cause of peace.
Regarding this issue in particular, it is difficult to prepare a plan to lessen military tensions that would include redrawing the NLL. Currently, the two Koreas cannot even follow the basic plan to ease tensions that was agreed on 15 years ago. How could we hope to resolve such a complex and difficult issue as the sea boundary in just two days? This meeting should focus on determining what North Korea really wants, not jumping into premature agreements.