South Korea seeks to prove North’s motive for Cheonan’s sinking

3 06 2010

(By Sunny Lee, The National, June 01, 2010) After the sinking of a navy ship in March, South Korea had been widening its campaign to convince sceptics that Pyongyang was responsible for the fatal attack and to deliver punitive measures against North Korea at the UN Security Council. Now, after an international inquiry determined that North Korea was the culprit, analysts are shifting their attention to a key question, which has been overlooked: why did North Korea carry out the attack?

Answering this question is critical for South Korea to persuade China and Russia, two traditional allies of North Korea, to back action against Pyongyang. Both are veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members that can scupper Seoul’s effort to mete out the world body’s official condemnation against North Korea.

“If North Korea indeed did it, why would it have done it? This is the question that has not been answered. And it bothers me,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian analyst on inter-Korean affairs, who now teaches at the University of Sydney. Russia has dispatched a team of investigators to Seoul, who were briefed by Seoul officials yesterday. The Russian team, composed of experts on torpedoes and submarines, plans to inspect the wreckage and visit the site of the sinking. It hopes to finish its investigation by early next week.

In the debate around the Cheonan, the ship that was sunk, some analysts pointed out, the Russian factor has been overlooked. “Given that South Korea and Japan are working with the US to bring the issue to the Security Council, one element in Chinese calculations will be Russia’s position on the investigation results,” said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the North East Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, a non-partisan think tank that advises governments. “China is averse to diplomatic isolation, so it will probably act to avoid being alone in the opposing camp.”

Seoul has also asked Beijing to send its own experts, but has not received a response. Some South Korean media said China has already rejected the offer. The Russian foreign ministry said it needs “100 per cent proof” of the North’s involvement. “A ‘100-per cent proof’ is a politically loaded demand that scientific evidence is unable to meet,” said Tong Kim, a former US state department official, who participated in past negotiations between North Korea and the US. Mr Kim believes that Russia is likely to accept the South-led results in the end. “Now is a time for raising questions and answering them,” Mr Kim said. In his meeting with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, last month in Beijing, Kim Jong Il denied his country’s involvement. The North Korean leader said there was no reason to carry out the attack…

..Some also viewed that North Korea wanted to break the deadlock in the standoff with the South by destabilising the situation in which the South’s hard-line president, Lee Myung-bak, had been refusing to engage the North. Mr Kim believed there would not be any military retaliation from the South and the Obama administration, for fear of widening tensions. “Of course, there should be consequences. But nobody wants a war,” said Mr Kim, the former US official.

The North would also have thought that the UN would not respond in a resolute manner as China and Russia would confront the US. Analysts also said that North Korea was attempting to engineer a situation where the whole world is paying keen attention to it. “North Korea sought Obama’s attention, but Obama didn’t pay attention to it. This time, I think the North achieved it,” Mr Petrov said.

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