[Viewpoint] Make the west coast a sea of peace

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[Viewpoint] Make the west coast a sea of peace

North Korea is like a murderer who denies his crime no matter what evidence is put before him. The bloodstained murder weapon was found at the crime scene with his fingerprints on it. Forensic investigation confirmed the scars on the victim’s body match the blade from the crime scene, and fingerprints and DNA found on the scene exactly matches the suspect’s.

There is no way the suspect can escape a guilty conviction. Yet North Korea insists it’s been framed and that evidence from the naval ship Cheonan wreckage and sinking site has been cooked up. For North Korea to build a case for its defense, it needs to prove two points.

First, Pyongyang must present physical evidence to contradict the charges. It must demonstrate with clarity and objectivity that the torpedo propeller the South found was not made in North Korea and is unrelated to the sinking of the Cheonan.

It should also explain how the markings on the torpedo the South presented as evidence differs from its genuine torpedoes. Next, it must come up with an irrefutable alibi. It can walk free from suspicion if it can prove none of its submarines or submersible vehicles were near the waters where the Cheonan sank at 9:30 p.m. on March 26.

If it can verify at least one of the two, North Korea can reverse the current of suspicion. Then it can instantly become the victim and put the South Korean government and the military in the position of the worst kind of cheat. The Lee Myung-bak administration’s reputation and authority will be dragged through the mud, and the government will be fatally wounded for the rest of its term.

The countries who sent their investigators will also share the shame and blame. If it has such a card up its sleeve, North Korea will be able to turn the tables and start an entirely different game.

If North Korea is truly innocent, it should concentrate on securing the evidence. Up until now, its response has been all words. North Korean officers from the Defense Commission held a press conference in Pyongyang over the weekend rebuking the allegations of the South.

But they have failed to meet either of the two prerequisites to prove their innocence. They merely reiterated that they lack the capacity to sneak into South Korean waters to attempt such an attack and that the torpedo was not theirs.

North Korea’s fiery and overwrought responses also blatantly portray it as a nervous suspect. It has reacted to every South Korean plan for punitive action with noisy saber rattling. The North can silence and embarrass the South as well as the United States and Japan if it can come up with some evidence, yet instead it has been busy trying to get the public to rail against the South to veil its fear and anxiety.

No suspect has a chance against physical evidence or lack of an alibi. In time, he would have to admit to the crime. China may now be serving as a devil’s advocate, but it inevitably would have to abandon that role if North Korea fails to build its case. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said Beijing will study the case fairly and objectively and won’t defend anyone contrary to its investigation’s results, sending a warning to Pyongyang to clear its name or come clean.

North Korea may be hanging on by its fingernails in the hope of buying time until the coast is clear. But the Lee administration isn’t in a position to easily give up. It has gone too far to back down. It has already pulled the sword out of the scabbard and with the entire population at its back, it would inevitably use it.

A head-on collision is inevitable if two opponents run at one another. The weaker and guilty will likely seek an opportunity to jump out of the way. The extreme tension can be injurious to both South and North Korea. The Korean race again may end up doing a favor for the superpowers like the United States and China. The South’s government should also give its counterpart a little breathing space and an opportunity to apologize.

President Lee Myung-bak, while defining the Cheonan sinking as a product of North Korea’s military aggression, came short of blaming its leader Kim Jong-il. It was a good move. He has given Kim a second chance. It was a wise move too: A cat can catch a mouse by pretending to give him a way out.

Kim is in a tight spot. If press reports are true about him claiming innocence during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, he should reverse what he said to his best friend. As a leader of an authoritarian regime, he cannot claim that his subordinates attempted the provocation without his knowledge.

But there is no other way out. As he admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens, Kim should confess this offense and seek forgiveness. Even if the act was committed without his knowledge, he must acknowledge the mess-up.

However, his obligation does not end there. Kim should not only admit and apologize, but make amends by sitting down with South Korea’s leader to discuss ways to bring perpetual peace to the western coast. The sea standoff should end so that the Cheonan tragedy does not recur.

The two Koreas already have pledged to resolve the dispute over the Northern Limit Line. They can start negotiations by reviving that pledge and possibly seek mediation from the United States and China if necessary. Turning the west coast into a sea of peace is the only way to make amends for the deaths of 46 sailors, and it could make President Lee a leader who transformed crisis into opportunity.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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