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Renewed provocation

Publication Date : 24-09-2012


The repeated incursions of North Korean fishing boats into South Korean waters in violation of their disputed West Sea border appear to be deliberate provocations with multiple purposes. It is noteworthy that they are timed for the presidential race in the South entering the main stretch with debates among the three major candidates focusing on economic justice and political reforms.

In the latest of nearly 30 intrusions over six days since September 12, a North Korean vessel crossed into the South Korean waters Saturday before retreating at the warning from a South Korean naval patrol boat. The intrusion came a day after the South Korean navy fired warning shots to repel six North Korean fishing boats that violated the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a de facto maritime border Pyongyang has refused to recognise.

North Korea threatened unspecified military actions Saturday, denouncing the warning shots as an “adventurous provocation”.

It seems that Pyongyang is attempting to make inter-Korean matters draw more attention and foster arguments in its favour in South Korea’s presidential race by heightening tensions in the scene of past bloody naval clashes. Unlike in previous polls, North Korean issues have been sidelined after worries over uncertainty in the communist regime were subdued as its young new leader Kim Jong-un seemed to be consolidating his power.

In an editorial jointly run in the January 1 issues of its party and military media organs, Pyongyang suggested it would attempt to influence the elections in the South to see the liberal opposition, which is concilliatory toward the North, take back power from the conservative ruling party. The (South Korean) ruling forces have become the subject of grave judgement from the people, the editorial claimed.

From the viewpoint of the election logic, it may not suit North Korea’s purpose to go as far as to make grave provocations resulting in casualties, which would act against liberal candidates. The North, therefore, is expected to continue provocations near the maritime border in a measured way, while waiting for an opportunity to turn up the heat, depending on the South’s response.

The main motive behind its latest provocative moves seems to make the dispute over the NLL a sensitive issue in the course of the presidential election in the South. Pyongyang may also want to express its discontent with Seoul’s recent offer of what it described as a “meagre amount of materials” in flood relief aid and press the South to be more active on assistance to the North.

North Korea should realise its conventional attempts to heighten tensions in time for the election period in South Korea would go nowhere in serving whatever purposes it may have. The repeated incursions by fishing boats should be stopped as they carry the danger of flaring up into a military clash in the tinderbox area.

North Korea’s latest provocation should serve as an occasion to put under more thorough scrutiny the capability of the presidential candidates to cope with inter-Korean ties and other security issues. It should remind voters that what thoughts and policies a candidate has toward the North is one of the crucial criteria for choosing the next national leader.


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