Bracing for NLL intrusionsNorth Korean fishing boats’ continuous violation of the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, has increased military tension between Seoul and Pyongyang. According to military intelligence reports, North Korean fishing boats have crossed the highly sensitive border as many as six times this month alone. A ship even crossed the line just a day after six fishing boats retreated to their territorial waters after the Navy fired warning shots. The fishing boats’ intrusion of our waters is not a rare occurrence, but they have never violated the NLL as often as they have recently.
Responding to the Navy’s warning shots, Pyongyang rebutted by saying, “Speedboats of a puppet navy broke into our territorial waters and fired warning shots at civilian fishing boats to create mayhem in the sea.” After shifting the responsibility to the South, Pyongyang went so far as to claim that those civilian vessels were Chinese, not North Korean ships. It is preposterous to argue that our patrol ships engaged in provocative acts on purpose while being keenly aware of the sensitivity of the sea border. Our naval ships could not have failed to differentiate between North Korean and Chinese ships at such a short distance.
Pyongyang could be trying to increase anxiety among its southern compatriots ahead of the presidential election in December or testing our military’s preparedness for unexpected breakouts of armed conflicts. In a nutshell, the North’s provocation is most likely part of an intentional, multifaceted strategy in dealing with its hard-line counterpart in the South.
Both countries have already engaged in deadly exchanges - twice near the NLL alone. The waters around the NLL are an extremely volatile region where even the slightest provocation can quickly turn into a full-scale battle. Whether it is an accidental or arbitrary clash, both Seoul and Pyongyang must take into account the worst-case scenario before taking hostile actions. Our Navy is determined to engage in stern retaliation after the North clandestinely sank the Cheonan warship in March 2010 and shelled the peaceful Yeonpyeong Island in November of the same year. Pyongyang must not play with fire again.
Whenever a military clash occurs around the NLL, it will inevitably raise military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Under the premise that both sides recognize the line as a de facto maritime border, both sides must devise a fundamental solution which can change the tense Yellow Sea into a sea of peace. Establishing a joint fishing zone could reach this desired goal.