[Viewpoint] Round 2 of a dangerous game

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[Viewpoint] Round 2 of a dangerous game

These days, the hottest topic in the press room of the United Nations Headquarters in New York is Korea.

A journalist from Eastern Europe whom I run into from time to time lighted up with joy and initiated a conversation the last time he saw me.

Some reporters are saying that they rooted for Korea as the South’s national football squad defeated Greece and the North’s team gave Brazil a hard time in their match in the 2010 World Cup. North Korea suffered a crushing loss, but South Korea successfully moved on to the Round of 16.

There has been an explosion of popularity among the international journalists for Korean football.

But football is not the only interesting game here. Attention to Korea has doubled since the South and North had their showdown at the United Nations Security Council.

On June 14, representatives of Seoul and Pyongyang briefed the Security Council on the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, and reporters and journalists from around the world covered the story.

That game ended almost entirely one-sided.

In the confrontation over what caused the ship to sink, South Korea’s offensive was unilaterally powerful. The 15 members of the Security Council responded coldly to North Korea’s claim that the Cheonan incident was a “fabrication staged by the United States and South Korea.”

Even Turkey’s UN ambassador, who has had friction with the United States over sanctions against Iran, brushed off North Korea’s argument.

However, it’s a mistake to think the diplomatic game is over. It seems that North Korea, from the beginning, never intended to fight with South Korea over what caused the incident.

While the civilian and military joint investigation team representing South Korea prepared a thorough PowerPoint presentation with computer simulation and video footage, North Korea was only armed with the words of Shin Seon-ho, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations.

Having determined that there was no chance of winning the battle of briefings, the North resorted to a different approach from the beginning.

At the open press conference the day after the Security Council briefing, Ambassador Shin said, “If the Security Council puts sanctions against North Korea, the response to the sanctions will be made by the North Korean military forces.”

It amounts to a threat of military action against the United Nations Security Council. North Korea is trying to bring the war into the enemy’s camp.

But the Security Council responded differently. The most serious issue at the Council is not the Cheonan incident.

Both China and Russia, as well as the United States, feel that Iran’s nuclear threat is more urgent. To Washington, Middle Eastern peace and the war in Afghanistan are the most pressing issues.

At this point, no one welcomes a situation in which South and North Korean forces come to armed blows on the Korean Peninsula. But Pyongyang has set its sights on this.

Regardless of who is at fault, China and Russia hope to avoid a military clash in the region, and their position is in response to North Korea’s strategy.

At the moment, the operation of the Security Council is temporarily suspended. From June 19 to Sunday, ambassadors of the 15 member countries of the Council are touring Afghanistan and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, not to mention South and North Korea, are intensely communicating under the table over what direction to take in the Cheonan incident.

The main game is about to begin. The dominant opinion at home might be to wage an all-out diplomatic war to induce a Security Council resolution to sanction North Korea, using the briefing showdown as momentum.

However, considering the situation the Security Council faces, such a move is likely to be exploited by Pyongyang’s strategy.

In other words, if we adhere to the formality of demanding Security Council sanctions, we might be frustrated by Pyongyang’s reckless tactics as well as opposition from China and Russia.

In the process, South Korea could end up losing its justification and actual benefits.

But this could also provide us with a golden opportunity to highlight the peace on the Korean Peninsula as a major topic in the international community.

As the victim of the tragedy, Seoul definitely has an upper hand in terms of justification.

Now it all depends on the diplomatic caliber of the Korean government - it must wisely use the opportunity and turn the eyes of the international community toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Jung Kyung-min
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