Roh Blue House got military to alter NLL stance

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Roh Blue House got military to alter NLL stance

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김장수 국방부 장관(왼쪽)과 김일철 북한 인민무력부장이 2007년 11월 제2차 남북 국방장관 회담이 열린 평양 송전각초대소에서 악수하고 있다. [중앙포토]

Amid allegations that former president Roh Moo-hyun disavowed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between North and South Korea, at a summit in Pyongyang in 2007, the JoongAng Ilbo found that the South Korean military altered its position in dealing with the tense maritime border, obviously under pressure from the Roh administration.

In January 2007, 9 months before the summit, the Ministry of Defense under the Roh administration published a book entitled “Our Position on the Northern Limit Line.” The book was a revised version of the first edition, which was published five years earlier under the same title.

In the revised edition, the ministry said that if the two Koreas formed a so-called “joint fishery area” near the NLL, it would become “a big help to prevent a possible military clash between navies of two Koreas” and “ease tensions in the Yellow Sea.”

Through the joint fishery zone, the Defense Ministry said in the book, “the two Koreas should have a landmark opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations.”

At the inter-Korean summit in 2007, both Koreas signed a deal to create a “special peace and cooperation zone in the Yellow Sea,” in which they agreed to form a join fishery area near the NLL.

That agreement has not been followed through by the Lee Myung-bak administration.

However, before Roh took office, the ministry didn’t support the idea of such a zone.

In October 2002, before Roh was elected president, the Defense Ministry told lawmakers at a parliamentary hearing: “If we form a joint fishery area near the NLL in the Yellow Sea, naval ships of two Koreas will be able to approach closer to the line, and it could trigger military tension and an unexpected armed conflict.”

In August 2002, when the military published the first edition of the book, the military criticized Pyongyang’s denial of the NLL and supported it as an effective maritime boundary.

The Defense Ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo that it expanded the original 22-page first edition into a 67-page edition, adding the proposal for creating the joint fishery zone.

“We just reflected some admiral-level talks held between the two Koreas in May and June 2004 that discussed how to prevent skirmishes in the West Sea and build up military cooperation,” a military official who was familiar with the issue told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Defense Ministry said that the person in charge of the second edition was Jung Seung-jo, the current chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was a general of the Army.

“During some inter-Korean military talks, Pyongyang brought up the NLL issue again and again,” a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So the Roh administration started to take some measures that would improve inter-Korean relations.

“So the military couldn’t help but change its position in dealing with the joint fishery routes near the NLL, in accordance with the Blue House’s position,” the official added.

A government source told the JoongAng Ilbo that 10 days after both Koreas announced the inter-Korean summit on Aug. 8, 2007, Blue House officials were discussing how to deal with the NLL issue with the North.

Although the Defense Ministry supported the joint fishery zone in the book, some high-ranking military officials reportedly opposed the Roh administration’s position on the NLL, such as defense minister Kim Kwan-jin.

“Since then [when they announced the inter-Korean summit], all discussions on the NLL were led by the Blue House and Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung,” a military official said.

A North Korean studies analyst working at a state-run institute said the Ministry of Unification and the Defense Ministry under the Roh administration “pushed analysts to write in favor of the joint fishery area and North Korea’s denial of the NLL.”

In fact, on Aug. 28, 2007, Seo Ju-seok, a researcher at the state-owned Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, wrote a column for the liberal Hankyoreh newspaper. He said it’s “unconstitutional to claim the NLL as an effective maritime border.”

Seo was a former presidential secretary for foreign and defense affairs in the Roh administration.

By Lee Young-jong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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