Friday’s incursion by North Korean fishing boats may have been an intentional provocation, warned Seoul’s Unification Minister Monday. Speaking to foreign journalists at a press event on September 24, Minister Yoo Woo-ik also said given the frequent incursions by North Korean fishing vessels across the Northern Limit Line, it was difficult for South Korea’s government to believe such territorial trespasses were accidental.
The Northern Limit Line is a de facto maritime border between the Koreas drawn up shortly after the Korean War by the U.N. Command. It’s been the scene of frequent military clashes between North and South Korea; the North has never recognized the NLL and resents this boundary in the West Sea off the Korean Peninsula, which interferes with its access to rich crabbing grounds south of the line.
“It’s a bit difficult to consider it as a simple mistake because too many boats have crossed the Northern Limit Line too many times,” Yoo said. “So the South Korean government is now closely watching the situation.”
South Korean patrol vessels fired warning shots at six North Korean fishing boats at about 3:20 p.m. on September 20 after they crossed the Northern Limit Line near South’s Yeonpyeong Island, which was bombarded by the North in November 2010. The attack killed four South Koreans, including two civilians, and was a major factor contributing to current heightened tensions in inter-Korean ties.
The fishing vessels returned to North Korea-controlled waters, and no casualties were reported. But Yoo said, “I hope the North did not intend the fishing boat crossings as a provocation.” He also said the responsibility for the present “stagnant” and “difficult” relations between Seoul and Pyongyang lies solely on North Korea.
Talks between the Koreas broke down after Pyongyang refused to apologize for two military attacks in 2010. According to results of a multinational probe, in March 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean naval warship, killing 46 sailors. And later that year, in November, the North carried out its fatal shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. .
At the media briefing, Yoo also said that although “North Korea’s power succession from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un appears to have gone off without a hitch, the North has isolated itself from the rest of the world and is going through a large number of economic difficulties as a result.” “So I think there are some limits to stabilizing power there,” he added.
Yoo also predicted the next South Korean president, who will take office early next year following this December’s South Korean presidential election, will keep the same unification and North Korea policies as the current Lee Myung-bak administration, and it is “up to the North to improve cross-border relations.”
The minister also explained that in the past, the Seoul government’s unification policies moved on a “single track system.” This system, he stated, “aimed to unify the two Koreas through exchange and cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang.”
But Yoo said they now move on a “multiple track system” which not only stresses inter-Korean cooperation and exchange, but also make preparations for “inevitable, peaceful unification.” Those preparations, according to Yoo, include working to solicit donations for a unification fund not only from Korean citizens, but all members of the international community.