No room for carelessnessTensions have escalated rapidly on the Korean Peninsula due to the growing possibility of armed conflict.
Wednesday’s statement from the North’s military spokesman at Panmunjom shows that Pyongyang will act without reservation, even start a war.
The statement called South Korea’s full membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative “a declaration of war.” It said “any hostile act against our peaceful vessels including search and seizure will be considered an unpardonable infringement of our sovereignty and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike.”
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland also issued a threatening statement, saying, “We will cope with practical, wartime military moves.”
The North is saying that it will act out, using South Korea’s PSI participation as an excuse.
This is not the first time the North has said South Korea’s participation in the PSI would be regarded as a declaration of war. Last month, the North made a thinly veiled threat when it said that Seoul is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the Military Demarcation Line.
The South declared its participation in the anti-proliferation regime in the aftermath of the North’s second nuclear test. The North is trying to ratchet up tensions, as though it had been waiting for its cue.
The North’s military threat is preconditioned on hostile action from South Korea against North Korean ships, but the threat to the safety of ships in the Yellow Sea has raised serious concerns because it could be realized at any time.
In spite of the endless debates, the North provided the decisive reason for the South’s joining the PSI.
But the South’s membership in the PSI does not mean it can search a ship in the open sea without the flag state’s consent. Therefore, the situation in South Korea’s waters, as governed by the inter-Korean maritime accord, will remain unchanged. This explanation, however, seems to have had little effect. The North’s madness, past reason and rationality, has re-emerged.
Under these circumstances, the South Korean government must be completely ready to counter any provocation from the North.
The cold reality is that another unfortunate naval skirmish between the two Koreas could take place in the waters west of the peninsula.
The government and the military must counter the situation with extraordinary alertness. There is no room for carelessness.
That will be the only way for the residents not only of the five islands in the Yellow Sea but also the entire nation to continue living undisturbed.