Provocation from the North

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Provocation from the North

North Korea started yet another armed provocation in the Yellow Sea yesterday. A North Korean patrol boat crossed the Northern Limit Line and attacked a South Korean ship, despite the South’s repeated warnings to retreat and the firing of a warning shot.

After the skirmish, the South experienced scant damage, but the North Korean boat was hit and retreated. The South Korean Navy responded well based on rules of engagement revised after the second inter-Korean naval skirmish in 2002. According to the rules, the South Korean Navy fired a warning shot immediately before taking other action.

It is the third armed provocation in the Yellow Sea by North Korea, following the 1999 and 2002 naval skirmishes. The intention is clear. Bilateral contact between the North and the United States is about to begin, and the North is showing a hard-line attitude toward the South.

By escalating tensions between the two Koreas, Pyongyang apparently wants to create an intense environment during its dialogue with Washington. Furthermore, the North probably wants to show its displeasure toward the Lee Myung-bak administration, which is reluctant to provide aid and to engage in inter-Korean negotiations. At the same time, the North probably intended to deepen the split inside the South over Seoul’s North Korea policy.

North Korea’s strategy of provoking the South is familiar. The North never hesitates to overturn inter-Korean relations. Since the Lee administration launched, the North shot dead a tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort, detained a South Korean worker at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, restricted the access to the complex and demanded increased fees for the complex, despite existing inter-Korean agreements.

Even during the liberal Kim Dae-jung administration, the North staged two naval engagements on the Yellow Sea. Yesterday’s armed provocation also took place amid the North’s latest peacemaking gestures toward the South. In the end, the North’s slogan of “blood is thicker than water” is nothing more than political propaganda.

No matter what the North’s intention is, we must not be fooled by it. We must counter the situation with cool heads. The North is demanding the South’s apology, and we must take that into account and prepare for possible additional provocations, particularly actions against South Korean workers at Kaesong.

Seoul also needs to explain Pyongyang’s intention to the international community including the members of the six-nation talks.

Most of all, the government must put forth efforts to prevent any internal split over its North Korea policy.

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