[Viewpoint] Restraint in the face of provocation

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[Viewpoint] Restraint in the face of provocation

North Korea’s provocations have taken the lives of many South Koreans, but the South has always resolved the situation through the exercise of restraint and international diplomacy. On Jan. 21, 1968, North Korea deployed 31 members of its military special forces unit, including Kim Shin-jo, who managed to reach within hundreds of meters of the Blue House. Jongno Police Precinct head Choi Gyu-sik and six others were killed by the North Korean infiltrators.

Two days later, the U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. Pueblo was seized by the North during a surveillance mission, and its crew of 83 was held by Pyongyang. Enraged, then-president Park Chung Hee argued that the South Korean and the U.S. forces must retaliate.

Then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, whose hands were tied by the Vietnam War, however, requested restraint.

Park refused to back down, however, claiming that the South would teach a lesson to the North alone.

Yet Johnson persuaded Park that the United States would provide military support sufficient for the South never to have to swallow an insult from the North. Johnson asked Park to allow the United States to resolve the matter.

The South eventually decided to give up on retaliation. In return, it received $100 million in advanced U.S. arms such as M16 rifles and Phantom fighter jets, to begin the era of South Korean self-defense.

On Oct. 9, 1983, President Chun Doo-hwan visited Burma. Shortly before his arrival at the Aung San National Cemetery to pay his respects, bombs installed by North Korean agents exploded. Seventeen senior South Korean officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Suh Suk-joon, were killed in the bombing.

An enraged Chun and military generals were determined to launch an air bombing of Pyongyang in retaliation. Washington, however, pressured Seoul to refrain because it did not want the situation to grow worse. Chun also gave up on retaliation because the South was preparing for the 1986 Asian Games.

Instead, the South issued a stern warning of serious retaliation to the North. Burma was also pressured to cut off its diplomatic relations with the North to settle the matter.

The bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by North Korean terrorists followed a similar script. On Nov. 29, 1987, two North Korean agents, one of whom was Kim Hyun-hee, installed bombs on the jet that killed the 115 passengers and crew on board.

At the time, the United States did not want any escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula because it was about to conclude a historic missile reduction treaty with the Soviet Union. South Korea was also about to hold its first presidential election in 16 years and host the 1988 Olympics, and launching military action at the time would have caused a slew of problem. The incident, therefore, was concluded with a United Nations condemnation of the North and the United States labeling North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, branding it a rogue state.

Nearly a half a month has passed since the mysterious sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan. The findings so far showed that the boat was sunk by an external force. Some argue that it was undeniably an act by the North.

And yet we must never jump to conclusions. South Korea has become a global leader, and its status in the international community today is incomparable to its position in the past. It will take time, and the nation may feel frustrated, but a scientific and transparent investigation to reveal the cause accurately will be the only way the situation will turn out favorably.

If the North is found to be responsible, one of the key cards South Korea will have to play will be an international resolution, just as it has done in the past. To this end, we need a smoking gun to persuade the international community. In order to secure that, we must be patient. It is time to support the government’s investigation calmly with a prudent attitude.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Chan-ho
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