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The Cheonan incident – what do you make of it?

On 26 March 2010, South Korean (ROK) naval ship, Cheonan was sunk 1.9 km off the southwest coast of Baengnyeong Island. 46 of the 104 sailors were presumed killed. South Korea claims the ship was sunk due to a torpedo attack from North Korea (DPRK). “The cause of this explosion was not immediately determined, although experts said that an external explosion was likely, as the structure of the ship was bent upwards, rather than evenly splitting as would have happened if metal fatigue had been the cause, and that an internal explosion was unlikely, as explosives on board the ship were undamaged.” (Source: Wikipedia.org)

ROK Naval ship, Cheonan sunk near Baekryong Island March 26, 2010

ROK Naval ship, Cheonan sunk near Baekryong Island March 26, 2010

I’ve placed an “x” in red on the map above to indicate where the incident occurred. Note the dotted lines which separate the North from the South.

First of all, imagine two gangs in an inner city and both are armed with machine guns. Is it wise for them to be hanging out near a street which separate their turfs? If the leadership from both sides are wise, they ought to negotiate a treaty to limit military activities near the border. That is a no brainer. That is the most important lesson from this Cheonan incident.

Given the fact the South Koreans recently shown [supposedly] found torpedo fragments which [allegedly] matching those manufactured by the north at the sinking site, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s position is now clear – he simply will have to do everything possible to make the north accountable for the death of the 46 sailors. North Korea has publicly denied involvement in the Cheonan sinking. Anyways, the situation between North Korea and South Korea has never been this tense since the Korean War.

What do you make of this?

Kim Jong Il was reported visiting China in early May, 2010. No doubt it was to discuss this issue and to present the North Korean side of the story. China Daily reported (“Challenges face Wen on visit“) Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao is scheduled to visit Seoul this Friday, May 28, 2010 to discuss with President Lee Myung-bak and Japan about this as well. According to the article, South Korea is expected to bring this matter to the U.N. Security Council and wants China’s support. This issue was also discussed between the U.S. and China at the recent Strategic Economic Dialog. A lot of diplomacy is behind the scenes.

I think it is rather sad for the Korean people in general, because the North and the South were divided simply due to the Cold War. They were once families and the same people. They were ravaged during WW2. The North is still starving. And, here we are today, another incident that could easily escalate into a wider conflict.

From China’s perspective, North Korea cannot collapse. Some cite the fact that China fears having to absorb too many refuges. South Korea would be flooded by refuges just the same. The key issue is the U.S. military presence would immediately advance further into Asia. Both Russia and China would not like that.

The economic embargo placed against North Korea is largely driven by the U.S. (leading Japan and South Korea in the effort). For this reason, they obviously fear a North Korea collaborating with organizations who target the U.S..

China has $150billion+ trade with South Korea and even larger trade volumes with Japan and the U.S.. Given the warming of relationship trend between China and South Korea, Japan, and the U.S., North Korea naturally feels very much left out. Given the economic embargo, it is very difficult for them to climb out of their current situation. There is probably a strong sense of entrapment in North Korea.

I think the priority for North Korea and the key players of the region is to help integrate Korea into the world economic community. The richer they become, the more they have to loose if they do something irrational. The richer they become, the more “normal” they become. If North Korea continues to be secluded, and beyond subsistence living they spend everything else on military, it seems like its only a matter of time before some bigger incident happens. Though – I am confident that there is already too much to loose economically between China, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S., so these parties will somehow manage.

  1. May 31st, 2010 at 23:23 | #1

    Following video, “China Maintains Silence on North Korea,” came via email via a Katie from Newsy.com’s Community Team. It’s little under three minutes, so take a look first, and I’ll share my thoughts on it.

    As you have noticed, the video use a collection of sources that seemed to be “balanced” overall: Fox News, Russia Today, Bloomberg, CNN, and Korea Times. Newsy.com’s tag line is, “Multisource Video News Analysis” which I agree with wholeheartedly. In this particular case, I’d say it’s not so “balanced.” CCTV and other Chinese media outlets are readily available on the Internet, including the English language versions, so there should not be an excuse for this omission. Likewise, there is no showing of the North Korean position. Again, no excuse for that.

    I’d say, Americans generally are presented *news* full of slant – due to omission of perspectives. Since Russia is sympathetic to North Korea, one may argue inclusion of a segment from Russia Today balances out the others. But, since this video is about China maintaining silence, then the Chinese perspective ought to be present.

    Newsy takes this “angle” that the “World” is wondering why China is keeping a “silence” on this Cheonan incident. This is very typical of the U.S. media.

    China in fact can be said to be very outspoken about the need to not unnecessarily escalate this situation into something unmanageable. This idea of “silence” on the Cheonan incident in my view is sensationalism. The whole “World” is not wondering why this supposed “silence” on China’s part. The U.S. rarely represents the “World.” Newsy also says China is “on the fence” over it. Again, that’s sensationalism. Perhaps China is taking a broader and longer term view than the U.S. media would like. Not that long ago I wrote about “If Confucius were alive today, he would advise the Western media: “中庸”.” To me, this is another example of lack of “中庸.”

    Bias aside, I agree with one of the commentator’s view that China’s trade with South Korea is much larger than with North Korea. Therefore, China has to take as fair and truthful a position on this as possible.

    According to the video, the one from Russia Today said that the torpedo discovered at the sinking site matches German made ones. The North Koreans have never bought German weapons. If these are indeed true, then South Korea’s accusations are wrong. My personal opinion is we will never really know for sure, because South Korea has taken a very public position over the evidence.

    The Fox commentator accused China of essentially harboring North Korea’s nuclear proliferation efforts. That’s some accusation which he needs to show evidence. Otherwise that’d be tabloid material. And, Newsy repeating that is certainly irresponsible. Some of you reading our blog have commented in the past of this behavior part of an “echo chamber.” Indeed.

    China obviously is stuck in the middle for a number of reasons: geopolitics, trade, and publicity on the world stage.

    My view is that China has both North Korea’s and South Korea’s views on this incident. From a peaceful resolution perspective, I think China is the key. The U.S. has already taken a public position that the North Koreans need to be punished.

    Thus, China is in the position of the peace broker. I expect China will help resolve this situation to the satisfaction of the parties involved.

  2. Wukailong
    June 1st, 2010 at 00:14 | #2

    Here’s the North Korean perspective, from my favorite news source:


    Is that 中庸 enough? 🙂

  3. June 1st, 2010 at 01:57 | #3


    Haha, you are not going to ask me to defend a North Korean article:

    a. Translated by people in Japan.
    b. Where I am sure the North Korean “violates” a lot of “Western” sensibilities.

    As far as I know, the North Koreans are denying the sunken Cheonan involved them.

    Don’t mock Confucius or “中庸”! 🙂

  4. Wukailong
    June 1st, 2010 at 19:57 | #4


    I think the North Korean article is actually translated in the country. They have very good English experts but most if not all haven’t been abroad, so they don’t really get how the rhetoric sounds in other countries.

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