[Viewpoint] We didn’t do so bad at the UN

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[Viewpoint] We didn’t do so bad at the UN

The adoption of the United Nations Security Council Presidential Statement on July 9, 2010, brought an important chapter of the Cheonan case to an end. Through the Presidential Statement, the Security Council condemned the attack on the naval vessel Cheonan and expressed its deep concern in view of the fi ndings of the Joint Civilian- Military Investigation Group (JIG) that North Korea is responsible for the attack.

The Presidential Statement also briefly included North Korea’s claim that it had nothing to do with the attack. For some, the inclusion of North Korea’s response and the failure to directly name North Korea in the condemnation are sources of disappointment and fury.

The frustration is understandable given the public’s rage at the attack and their unfulfilled aspiration for justice from the UN. In addition, the UN document left room for varying interpretations and continued controversy no matter how direct its language and wording.

However, considering that the Security
Council is not a judicial body with the job of doling out justice, but a forum of major powers struggling to balance power politics and idealism, the Presidential Statement deserves greater appreciation. Thus, there was sufficient reason for the South Korean and the U.S. representatives at the UN to celebrate the adoption of the statement.

I served as the South Korean Permanent Representative to the UN when we were a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 1996-1997. I personally led the negotiations with the Chinese delegates for the adoption of the Security Council Presidential Statement on the North Korean submarine infiltration in 1996.

In 1996, a North Korean submarine was found grounded in the shallow waters near the coastal city of Gangneung on the East Sea and the fleeing North Korean soldiers and submarine crew were confronted by South Korean troops, resulting in high casualties.

South Korea brought the case to the Security Council, yet North Korea claimed that its submarine had run aground due to engine failure.

In the Security Council, we presented specific evidence and successfully persuaded Qian Qichen, then the Chinese Foreign Minister who made a visit to the United Nations General Assembly, to support the adoption of the Presidential Statement with a warning message to North Korea.

Interestingly, North Korea apologized for the incident two months after the adoption of the Presidential Statement.

The underlying reasons were a desperate need for aid from the United States and South Korea in the midst of a food crisis, and the necessity to improve relations with the U.S., after being further isolated from the international community following the adoption of the statement.

China, with its special relationship with North Korea, made its utmost effort to tone down the statement in order to soothe Pyongyang, although it had agreed in principle that the Security Council should take some necessary steps.

China’s response in the Cheonan case was not greatly different from 1996. Yet, with the Cheonan case, China could not disregard the gravity of the attack, the scientific and objective findings of the JIG, or the pressure from the international community to condemn North Korea.

Moreover, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon clearly stated his view in an interview with UN correspondents on May 24 that the facts and evidence laid out by the JIG are “compelling and overwhelming,” and hoped that the Security Council would take appropriate measures.

Some might argue that the inclusion of North Korea’s claim that it had nothing to do with the sinking of the Cheonan is South Korea’s diplomatic failure. More importantly, however, we should note that there is a clear differentiation in the way the Security Council treats the North Korea’s response and the findings of the JIG.

The Security Council simply refers to the North Korea’s claim by “taking note of” it in neutral terms, while, in effect, it endorses the JIG’s conclusions by expressing its deep concern over the attack.

Furthermore, as a result of a series of negotiations, we have successfully brought China and Russia on board. The unanimous adoption of the Presidential Statement sent a unified voice of the international community to condemn the attack by North Korea and warn against further provocations.

A statement with the support of China and Russia could be far more effective than a resolution without the two countries.

Respecting the warning message of the Presidential Statement, North Korea should frankly admit its wrongdoings, apologize and take full responsibility for the attack before the international community.

Lastly, I believe China — knowing the truth of the Cheonan case through various sources, including the JIG report — took a role as a stakeholder in the international system, despite its special relationship with North Korea in the fluid security environment of Northeast Asia.

The Chinese position was clearly expressed by President Hu Jintao, during talks with President Barack Obama and President Lee Myung-bak at the Toronto summit: that “[China] condemns and opposes any act that demolishes the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.” Such a pronouncement could be seen as China’s indirect warning to North Korea and Hu’s concern for regional peace.

It is time for the ROK government to consider an exit strategy by making best use of the momentum spurred by the adoption of the Presidential Statement — with an eye toward ensuring the success of the six-party talks and inter-Korean relations.

*The writer is president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

By Park Soo-gil
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