As you know, a large South Korean patrol ship went down last week under rather suspicious circumstances. The government is handling the investigations in a rather methodical manner. They have asked for the assistance of the USA in recovering the remains of the ship. The families of the 45 missing sailors have urged the government to halt all rescue operations.
The minister of defense has stated that the explosion which brought the ship down was likely due to torpedo damage rather than an internal explosion. There were North Korean submarines in the vicinity. However, Seoul is not eager to blame this on the North without some proof.
If it is indeed likely that North Korea did this, some sort of response on the part of the South will be expected. This is not the first time that North Korea has taken South Korean lives. Kim Jong-il, it is said, played a role in the planning of the bombing of Korean Air flight 858. North Korean agents planted a bomb on board a flight from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok. All aboard were killed. It remains the single worst incident of terrorism following the Korean War. According to the testimony of one of the North Korean agents, Kim Jong-il was intimately involved with the planning of the bombing.
During the same period, North Korean agents assisinated eighteen ministers of former president Chun Doo-hwan’s cabinet. In the 1960s, they assassinated the wife of late president Park Chung Hee.
During the presidencies of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun in South Korea, the South embraced what was known as the “Sunshine Policy”. It was a noble aspiration, as indeed all countries should seek to live in harmony with their neighbours. However, one may very well question the success of this policy as it might seem to the casual observer that it involved the transfer of huge sums of money to North Korea with no questions asked. The current administration is opposed to giving them money without seeing some progress on some certain key issues.
The worrying thing is, of course, what response Lee Myung-bak and the powers that be in Seoul will give if indeed North Korea did it. Nobody would want to see the Korean War resume from the present armistice.
Kim Jong-il is supposed to be going to Beijing soon to ask for more aid from Chinese president Hu Jintao. President Hu, who has his own problems and worries to consider, is said to be opposed to giving any aid to North Korea without their return to the six party talks and some concessions on some issues. When Kim Jong-il finally does die, it will be very interesting to watch what China does. It is clear that they are running out of patience.
Currently, China has excellent relations with South Korea. South Korean companies do a lot of business in China. Chinese officials are only too eager to court more business in their direction. Following their missile tests, the Chinese media expressed criticism of North Korea. This is a rather significant happening, as the media in China is heavily censored to make sure that only the news that fits the party line gets printed. The censors allowed for stories criticising North Korea to appear in all the newspapers, even including the Communist Party-owned Renmin Ribao (人民日報). While China is not eager to sever links to the North, their relations with the South are far more positive and enriching in a monetary sense.