[Viewpoint] The oh-so predictable NorthWe need to pay attention to the fact that the latest clash in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 10 did not just happen in a vacuum. It is not news that North Korea uses military threats to get what it wants from the South Korean government.
Military threats in the Yellow Sea have been used as leverage to create military tension in the past.
One of the notable cases is the controversy over the Northern Limit Line (NLL) at the beginning of the year.
A spokesperson of the General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army declared an all-out confrontational posture against the South and called the Northern Limit Line invalid.
And North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland followed by threatening to denounce the clauses on the NLL in the inter-Korean basic agreements.
On May 27, the North Korean mission at Panmunjom made a threat that Pyongyang would not guarantee the legal status of five South Korean islands in the Yellow Sea - Baekryeong, Daecheong, Socheong, Yeonpyeong and Wu - or safe passage of the South Korean Naval and civilian vessels in the nearby waters in response to Seoul’s joining of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
North Korea has long tried to deny the NLL, the actual military border between the two Koreas, and make the Yellow Sea a military conflict region with an ambiguous border.
Pyongyang creates a situation to make various military threats on the South, and then uses them as leverage to encourage internal discord in the South or to have contact with Washington.
The latest skirmish in the Yellow Sea is another example of the North Korean authorities creating military tension by abusing South Korea’s defensive readiness along the NLL.
First, a North Korean vessel crossed the NLL and provoked the South Korean Navy, which led to a relatively minor military clash.
Then, Pyongyang blames the South and is seeking justification for initiating a more serious military provocation.
So Pyongyang is now demanding Seoul apologize for the clash and reprimands the “string pullers” in the South.
Therefore, it becomes increasingly more clear that the North Korean authorities were devising a retaliatory action against the South.
However, since the South Korean military is thoroughly ready to respond to any provocation, Pyongyang’s military retaliation is likely to remain a threat rather than a reality.
Pyongyang will continue to make military threats and elevate tension while emphasizing improvement in the inter-Korean relationship and dialogue.
Signs have been detected that North Korea launched land-to-sea missiles north of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 15, reflecting Pyongyang’s intention to aggravate a military threat.
In essence, the North uses the military threat as a means to create public division in the South and to pit pressure on the South Korean government. So it becomes obvious how the South Korean government needs to respond regarding the military threats.
First, Seoul should make it clear that the NLL cannot be negotiable but must be defended in order to fundamentally prevent North Korea from committing a fatal error.
When the NLL becomes unclear, all kinds of military chaos will ensue.
That’s the reason, in all probability, that Pyongyang tries to deny and ignore the NLL.
The entire South Korean populace needs to fully support the military authorities’ complete readiness.
We also need to keep in mind that North Korea will make yet more provocations when levels of military alertness are relaxed.
Secondly, the South Korean government should never allow North Korean military threats to weaken the South’s policies on the North.
We need to remember that Pyongyang milked its military threats for all their worth to get what the North wanted.
We need to believe that we can change North Korea gradually only by adhering to our principles.
*The writer is a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jeong Young-tai
More in Columns
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin