South Korea on Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, with the country’s defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo confirming at the memorial ceremony that the military is reviewing naming one of its new frigates after the ship.
The minister in his speech today said that he “looks forward to the day that Cheonan resurrects with a new look,” while offering his condolences to the bereaved families and lauding the deceased soldiers’ sacrifice for their country.
In the speech, Jeong referred to the Cheonan sinking as an attack caused by “North Korea’s ambush provocation.”
The 10th-anniversary ceremony, held in front of the body of the ship, minimized the number of participants amid South Korea’s intense quarantine efforts in recent weeks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The calling and greatest honor for a soldier is sacrifice and devotion for the country and the people,” Jeong said in his speech on Thursday, underlining how this year also marks 70 years since the outbreak of the Korean War.
The minister said that “many heroes spilled blood to defend the Northern Limit Line (NLL) to the end,” adding that in order to prevent something like the Cheonan sinking from happening again, “North Korea’s denuclearization and the everlasting peace on the Korean peninsula” must be achieved.
“Only strong national security through ‘strong power’ can guarantee peace and prosperity,” Jeong went on.
“The best way to repay the honorable sacrifice and devotion of the Cheonan soldiers… is with the peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula,” he said.
While the 10-year anniversary was relatively low-key, not live-streamed, and only attended by a small crowd in part due to concerns over COVID-19, the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy set up an online memorial to honor the deceased soldiers in which “over 13,000 citizens and soldiers” have participated, according to Ministry of National Defense (MND).
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Presidential Blue House on Thursday opted not to participate in the memorial ceremony, and appeared to dodge a Cheonan sinking-related question asked by a reporter during a closed-door briefing.
Responding to a question about the Moon Jae-in administration’s view on an ongoing defamation trial regarding the sinking, an unnamed Blue House official said that it would be “inappropriate for the Blue House to address a matter where the trial is still ongoing.”
While that official also did not respond to a question regarding the naming of a new frigate after the Cheonan, saying that the matter should be referred to the defense ministry, MND spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo on Thursday said that this would “not be against the rules on naming warships.”
With around three weeks before the April National Assembly election, South Korea’s political parties issued statements with differing tones regarding the anniversary, with conservative groups criticizing the Moon government for its “failed North Korea policy.”
The country’s ruling Minjoo party on Thursday issued a statement of condolence, reiterating Minister Jeong’s points on how the country can repay the Cheonan soldiers with peace on the Korean peninsula by “procuring a strong national defense that can sternly punish any and all provocations.”
Meanwhile, the right-wing opposition United Future Party (UFP), previously Liberty Korea Party (LKP), stated that the “reality of the national security of the ROK in 2020 is embarrassing” and that the soldiers’ sacrifice should not be in vain.
Referring to North Korea’s three missile tests this year and the Moon government’s silence on Pyongyang’s “insults” towards Seoul, the UFP criticized the administration for not demanding an apology from the North for the attack.
“After the Cheonan sinking, the ROK said that they would not forget and the military said that they would take revenge. However… [the Moon government is] tiptoeing around the North… and making a fuss about Kim Jong Un’s letter.”
Such criticism, commonly made by South Korean conservatives, has been repeatedly condemned by North Korean externally-focused media outlets, with Meari as recent as February 29 slamming Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the main opposition party, for visiting a photo exhibit in remembrance of the Korean War and Cheonan sinking anniversaries.
“Hwang Kyo-ahn, visiting the photo exhibit and spoke rubbish that… North Korea is vigilantly awaiting an opportunity [to go] after us,” it said.
“It’s nothing unexpected. Whenever there is an election, it is the conservative forces’ conventional trick… to aggravate the security crisis, making ‘the North’s provocation’ a fait accompli.”
Edited by James Fretwell