Joshua PollackLee Myung-bak's Line Drawn in the Water

The President of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, has something to say.

The complete text will appear in the comments. For now, I’d just like to call your attention to this passage:

Fellow citizens,

We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula. But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable.

From this moment, no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control, which has been allowed by the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation. The sea routes meant for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation must never again be used for armed provocations.

Trade and exchanges between the Republic of Korea and North Korea will also be suspended. We still remember the killing of an innocent South Korean tourist by a North Korean armed guard at the Mt. Kumgang resort. More recently, North Korea unilaterally confiscated South Korean assets at this same resort. Worse yet, the North sank the Cheonan taking the precious lives of our young sailors. Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless.

However, we will continue to provide assistance for infants and children. Matters pertaining to the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be duly considered, taking its unique characteristics into consideration.

From now on, the Republic of Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence. If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defense.

A few things leap out.

First, the refusal of passage to shipping. Does this mean that North Korean merchant vessels will be seized, or merely turned back? Will there be case-by-case judgments? This is the angle of most obvious interest from a nonproliferation perspective; it may go well beyond South Korea’s previous decision to join PSI.

Second, by carving out an exception for Kaesong, South Korea is suspending maybe just half its trade with the North, according to Gordon Flake. So the North still has something to lose.

Third, Lee seems to be threatening to shoot at any North Korean military vessel that intrudes past the Northern Limit Line.

I point this out not to invite endless re-litigation of what the proper sea border between North and South is. Let it suffice to say that the North has honored the NLL when it has suited its purposes, and not done so when it hasn’t. Lately, it hasn’t.

We’ll see how the North responds to this challenge. Will they fulminate, but be deterred? Will we be seeing more sea battles in the near future? Lee Myung-bak seems to have intentionally put that choice in Pyongyang’s hands.

Comments

  1. Josh (History)

    From Yonhap:

    Full text of President’s Lee’s national address
    SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) — The following is the full text of President Lee Myung-bak’s address to the nation on Monday.
    Fellow Koreans,
    I am standing here today, keenly aware that the Korean Peninsula is facing a critical turning point.
    My fellow citizens,
    The Cheonan was sunk by a surprise North Korean torpedo attack. Again, the perpetrator was North Korea. Their attack came at a time when the people of the Republic of Korea were enjoying their well-earned rest after a hard day’s work. Once again, North Korea violently shattered our peace.
    The sinking of the Cheonan constitutes a military provocation against the Republic of Korea by North Korea.
    Since the end of the Korean War, the North has perpetrated incessant armed provocations against us, including the bombing attack against the presidential delegation at the Aung San Martyr’s Mausoleum in Myanmar and the bombing in midair of Korean Air Flight 858. The North Koreans, however, have never officially admitted the crimes they committed. This time is no different. They continue to insist that my Government fabricated the sinking of the Cheonan.
    I am not surprised by such North Korean behavior and this was the reason why I emphasized, from the very beginning, the importance of conducting a thorough and objective scientific investigation into the incident. I also asked the nation to exercise patience and self-restraint. It was important for us not to come to any hasty conclusion until the results of the investigation came out.
    Finally, on May 20th, the international joint investigation group released their conclusive findings, backed by definitive evidences. With the release of the final report, no responsible country in the international community will be able to deny the fact that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea.
    Fellow citizens,
    We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula. But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable.
    From this moment, no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control, which has been allowed by the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation. The sea routes meant for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation must never again be used for armed provocations.
    Trade and exchanges between the Republic of Korea and North Korea will also be suspended. We still remember the killing of an innocent South Korean tourist by a North Korean armed guard at the Mt. Kumgang resort. More recently, North Korea unilaterally confiscated South Korean assets at this same resort. Worse yet, the North sank the Cheonan taking the precious lives of our young sailors. Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless.
    However, we will continue to provide assistance for infants and children. Matters pertaining to the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be duly considered, taking its unique characteristics into consideration.
    From now on, the Republic of Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence. If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defense.
    The North’s military provocation against the Cheonan on March 26 violated the Charter of the United Nations and contravened the existing agreements reached for the sake of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, including the Korean War Armistice Agreement and the Basic Agreement between South and North Korea.
    In close consultations with the nations concerned, the Government will refer this matter to the UN Security Council, so that the international community can join us in holding the North accountable. Many countries around the world have expressed their full support for our position.
    I solemnly urge the North Korean authorities to do the following. Apologize immediately to the Republic of Korea and the international community. Immediately punish those who are responsible for and those who were involved in the incident. These are basic measures that the North has to take before anything else. If the North continues to make excuses and wild assertions as it has always done in the past, they will not find any place to stand in the world.
    My fellow Koreans and our compatriots in North Korea,
    The overriding goal of the Republic of Korea is not military confrontation. Our goal has always been the attainment of real peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Our goal is to bring about prosperity for all Koreans. Our vision is to realize the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
    This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The Republic of Korea is no longer what it once was-an impoverished nation, suffering from the scars of war. Rising above the ruins of war, the Republic of Korea has achieved an impressive miracle of progress guided by the constitutional foundations of liberal democracy and a free market economy. The Republic of Korea is continuing its confident march toward the center stage of the world.
    All countries across the globe are competing with one another to ensure the prosperity of their own citizens. At the same time, all nations are working together for the sake of co-prosperity and peace in the global community. The entire world is changing. Changes are taking place faster than ever.
    But, what is the situation in North Korea? Nothing has changed over the last sixty years. It is a country still holding onto an empty ambition of forcefully reuniting the Korean Peninsula under the banner of communism. It is a country that still believes in making threats and committing terrorist activities. North Korea’s goal is to instigate division and conflict.
    For what reason and for whom is it doing what it does?
    As compatriots, I am truly ashamed.
    It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.
    Today, no country can maintain peace and make economic development on its own. It is imperative to conduct exchanges and cooperate with the world and to join the path that everyone else is taking. It is time to look at reality and make that courageous decision. It is time for the North Korean regime to start thinking about what is truly good for the regime itself and its people.
    The Korean Peninsula must not be left standing as the danger zone in Northeast Asia. The two Koreas must take the initiative and resolve this problem. The Peninsula must become a new cradle of world peace.
    Fellow Koreans,
    Permeating this War Memorial of Korea are the spirits of the soldiers of the Republic of Korea and United Nations who shed blood on this land. Also dedicated here was the monument memorializing the 46 fallen warriors of the corvette Cheonan.
    Through the Cheonan tragedy, we learned a painful lesson once again. We had been forgetting the reality that the nation faces the most belligerent regime in the world.
    We have to admit that our Armed Forces made mistakes as well. On the occasion of this incident, the Government will solidify the national security readiness. The discipline of the Armed Forces will be reestablished, military reform efforts will be expedited and combat capabilities will be reinforced drastically. The ROK-US joint combat readiness will be further strengthened on the basis of strong ROK-US alliance.
    Public awareness of the importance of national security will be strengthened as well. We must never waver in the face of threats, provocations and divisive schemes by the North. We must become one when it comes to national security.
    Fellow citizens,
    Regardless of how rough the storm may be, we will continue to walk steadily on the path toward a prosperous nation, a compassionate society and a strong country.
    The great people of the Republic of Korea will build an even greater country.
    Fellow Koreans,
    Let us all join forces and march forward together.
    Thank you very much.
    (END)

  2. Cameron (History)

    I have to say, on the initial reading, it strikes a good balance for a man in an untenable position. My pessimistic read is that a NORK ship will be sent (after sufficient belligerent dialogue) through those sea routes, especially if the reason for the attack was rooted in the north’s domestic political situation.

  3. Josh (History)

    Here, via the Nelson Report, is the North Korean response:

    DPRK’s NDC Spokesman Decries ROK President’s 24 May ‘Address to People’
    DPRK National Defense Commission spokesman’s answer: “Traitorous Gang Can Never Shirk Responsibility of Concocting Anti-Republic Farce”
    “Traitorous Gang Can Never Shirk Responsibility of Concocting Anti-Republic Farce” — DPRK National Defense Commission (NDC) spokesman’s answer traitor (yo’kto) Lee Myung-bak (Ri Myo’ng-pak; Yi Myo’ng-pak), who has been cornered since we clarified at home and abroad our principled position on the incident of the ship Ch’o‘nan’s sinking, took it upon his bastard self (chenom) to announce a so-called address to the people on 24 May.
    Regarding this, a spokesman for the DPRK NDC gave the following answer to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reporter’s question on 24 May:
    The address to the people that traitor Lee Myung-bak issued is another clumsy farce aimed at concealing the identity of the fabrication and a farce the bastard himself enthusiastically threw himself into cooking up and a sophism by an anti-Republic confrontation fanatic gone crazy with crushing his fellow countrymen.
    This is a specially gross crime completely negating and abrogating the historic 15 June Joint Declaration and its practical program, the 4 October Declaration.
    We already know more than well that traitor Lee yung-nak, having received a directive from his master, concocted a fabrication and farce to secretly hurt his fellow countrymen in a hurry in order to pursue sinister objectives.
    In this vein, the address to the people that the traitor prattled is but a trick he is using for fear that the fabrication and farce that the master and the henchman put their heads together and cooked up might be exposed.
    This is the very reason why he cannot accept our NDC inspection team even though he is loudly publicizing about scientific and objective investigation results.
    If the traitorous gang (yo’kcho’k p’aedang) does not have anything to be ashamed of, it ought to accept our inspection team.
    The traitorous gang must keep in mind that it can never shirk the responsibility of concocting the clumsy fabrication and farce against us.

  4. joel wit (History)

    Josh: North Korea could care less at this point about Kaesong. And it appears they expelled all the South Koreans today which was entirely predictable. This is purely a question of inter-Korean politics and the North Koreans arent going to look weak just to make some money.

    I heard although I am not sure that one reason Lee didnt shut down Kaesong was that the insurance policies for South Korean companies there say they would get paid unless the North Koreans shut the place down.

  5. kme

    It’s also being reported today that NK has kicked all the South Koreans out of Kaesong.

  6. Robert Brown (History)

    Joel-
    I think the NY Times reported that Kaesong wasn’t shut down by the ROK because they were worried the couple of thousand people working there would be used as hostages. I guess their expulsion solves this problem?

  7. Josh (History)

    As of this writing, at least, and contrary to early reports, the South Koreans have not been expelled from Kaesong.

    However, the North Koreans have threatened to seal off access to the industrial area, effectively shutting it down, upon the resumption of Southern propaganda broadcasts.

  8. Josh (History)

    The New York Times is reporting that the South Koreans are reconsidering propaganda broadcasts. Also, the North Koreans are signaling their desire to keep Kaesong open:

    “We want to continue to develop the Kaesong project,” the North Korean authorities said in a message delivered through South Korean businessmen at Kaesong on Sunday, according to a senior South Korean government official who briefed reporters on Monday on the condition of anonymity.

    The Chosun Ilbo has more detail:

    The Unification Ministry quoted firms there as saying the bureau sent a signal that appeared to downplay the North Korean military’s threats to shut the industrial park. Last week it sent an additional 300 workers to a dozen firms at the complex and told some 43,000 North Korean workers there to stay calm.

    An executive of a South Korean firm said, “The bureau and the Kaesong People’s Committee have told us to continue operation because the industrial park won’t be closed.” But he added, “I don’t know whether that’s happened after coordination with Pyongyang or whether it’s their own assessment.”

    A South Korean security official said, “This shows how seriously the North takes the industrial park. The bureau and the committee worry about the livelihood of more than 100,000 people in Kaesong even though the military is trying to use the industrial park as a stick to beat the South with.”

    A spokesman for the National Defense Commission, the North’s top policy-making body, on Friday did not repeat the threat of imminent closure, saying merely the complex “is a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation and exchange. Prospects for the industrial park depend on how the South will comply with the joint June 15, 2000 North-South declaration and the Oct. 4, 2007 statement.”

    We’ll have to see if this pattern holds.

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