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Report Concludes South Korean Patrol Vessel Sunk by North Korean Torpedo Attack [ 2010.05.28 ]

[NewsJapan.net] A report released on May 20 by the Joint Civilian-Military Investigative Group looking into the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel on March 26 of this year in the Yellow Sea to the west of the Korean Peninsula concluded that it was clearly caused by a North Korean torpedo attack. The Japanese media prominently reported the results of the investigation, and major newspapers all harshly criticized the torpedo attack by North Korea, proclaiming that “The attack . . . is an inexcusable act of violence that seriously threatens the security of East Asia as a whole, including Japan” (Asahi Shimbun editorial, May 21) and “Following the belligerent implementation of ballistic missile launches and a nuclear test in the spring of last year, this torpedo attack heightens the threat in Northeast Asia and is an unpardonable provocation to the peace and security of the world” (Sankei Shimbun editorial, May 21).

Prime Minister Hatoyama: “North Korea’s action cannot be condoned”

According to newspaper reports, the final report issued by the Joint Civilian-Military Investigative Group, which included experts from South Korea, the United States, Britain, Australia, and Sweden, concluded that the South Korean naval vessel had been sunk “as a result of an external underwater explosion caused by a torpedo made in North Korea” and insisted, “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation” (Asahi, May 20, evening edition). In an address to the South Korean people on May 24, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stated that the attack constituted “a military provocation against the Republic of Korea [South Korea],” announced South Korea’s own sanctions, including the suspension in principle of North-South exchange and trade, and stated that Seoul would refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council. North Korea has denied any involvement in the incident.

Following the release of the report by the Joint Civilian-Military Investigative Group, the Japanese government issued a comment by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama that stated, “Japan strongly supports the ROK. North Korea’s action cannot be condoned by any means, and Japan together with the international community strongly condemns North Korea. In handling this matter, Japan will continue its close coordination and cooperation for regional peace and stability with the countries concerned, including the ROK and the United States.”

In addition, following President Lee’s address to the South Korean people on May 24, the Japanese government convened a meeting of the Security Council of Japan at the Prime Minister’s Office. The Security Council declared strong support for South Korea’s position and affirmed that it would strengthen cooperation among Japan, the United States, and South Korea, including their response in the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore, among other things, Prime Minister Hatoyama instructed his government to consider additional sanctions by Japan itself against North Korea and to make efforts for the early enactment of a bill on special measures to inspect freight, which would enable Japan, on the basis of a UNSC sanctions resolution, to conduct inspections of freight aboard North Korean ships. As sanctions against North Korea, at present the Japanese government is imposing a complete ban on exports and imports and prohibiting the entry of North Korean vessels into Japanese ports. According to reports, additional new sanctions under consideration include a travel ban and the strengthening of restrictions on remittances to North Korea.

Newspaper Editorials

Reflecting the high degree of interest among the Japanese public, the five national newspapers all carried more than one editorial relating to the Joint Civilian-Military Investigative Group’s conclusion that the sinking was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack. The main editorials were as follows:

The Yomiuri Shimbun editorial of May 25, headlined “UNSC must condemn North Korean attack,” expressed the view that depending on the attitude of China, which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it might be difficult for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on additional sanctions against North Korea and even to issue a presidential statement condemning North Korea. “However,” it went on, “if the Security Council fails to issue even a presidential statement regarding the sinking, North Korea will take the current sanctions resolution, which demands Pyongyang not conduct nuclear or missile testings, even more lightly. Such a situation would damage not only peace and stability in East Asia but China’s national interests as well. Japan, South Korea, and the United States should strive to persuade China to work with them so Pyongyang’s actions will not be brushed off. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the United States and China, which opened Monday in Beijing, would be a significant opportunity for that purpose, as would the China–South Korea and Japan–China–South Korea summit talks to be held after the dialogue.”

Headlined “North Korea’s attack: Japan should press China to stop such behavior,” the Asahi editorial of May 21 stated, “These are problems the entire region, including Japan, must tackle.” It went on, “First, the United States and especially China have major roles to play. . . . We urge China to make use of its strong economic influence to check North Korea’s provocative actions and continue to make an effort at having Pyongyang take part in diplomatic negotiations.” The Asahi then requested of the Japanese government, “North Korea is the greatest factor of instability in East Asia, and the latest incident is also a problem for Japan. Japan should make use of its close relations with the United States and South Korea to apply pressure on China. There is no time to lose to make a diplomatic effort.”

The Mainichi Shimbun editorial of May 25, titled “Tension on the Korean Peninsular: Don’t miss the opportunity to persuade China,” commented, “We have repeatedly pointed out that the cooperation of China is essential for making North Korea change its ways. China is reluctant to impose sanctions on North Korea, but it cannot be described as a responsible power if it only sticks to this policy of caution. Fortunately, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit South Korea on May 28 and hold talks with South Korean President Lee. On the following day, a summit of the leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea will take place on the island of Jeju, and then Premier Wen will visit Japan. These are good chances for Japan and South Korea to collaborate and urge China to cooperate in the response to North Korea. We hope they will take advantage of this opportunity.”

Under the headline “The crisis on the Korean Peninsula is our problem,” The Nikkei editorial of May 22 noted, “For Japan, this is not a fire on the other side of the river. The most important thing is to realize that it is a serious security threat for us too.” Given the possibility of North Korea becoming increasingly recalcitrant and engaging in a provocative act that poses the danger of escalating into full-fledged combat, it said, “The gathering of information concerning the North Korean military and the crafting of measures in preparation for an emergency are impossible without the close cooperation of the United States, our ally, and of South Korea, which is in a state of confrontation with North Korea. Since the 1990s Japan has been establishing legislation on the assumption of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula. Japan has enacted the Act on Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Perilous Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan to provide rearguard support to the US military and has cemented Japan-US cooperation to protect Japanese citizens overseas. We pray that these measures will not be necessary in practice, but Japan and the United States, and Japan, the United States, and South Korea, should carry out inspections of their responses.”

Headlined “Take firm sanctions against the North: Strengthen the Japan-US alliance and cooperation with South Korea,” the Sankei editorial of May 21 noted, “The incident poses a serious problem for Japan’s defense and security too. More than anything else, this incident in the sixtieth anniversary year of the outbreak of the Korean War symbolizes the reality that crises and tension that could lead to a recurrence of war in Northeast Asia, which is directly connected with Japan’s security, are still continuing today, more than half a century on.” The Sankei urged the Japanese government to squarely confront this dangerous reality and “make an all-out effort to rebuild Japan’s defense posture.”

(Copyright 2010 Foreign Press Center, Japan)

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