North Korean vessels could be allowed to enter South Korea’s territorial waters in the event of an agreement between the two Koreas, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said Friday.
Reiterating the government’s position this week that the “May 24” sanctions — introduced in response to the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette in 2010 — do not represent a barrier to inter-Korean cooperation and exchange, MOU spokesperson Yoh Sangkey said “the measures’ effectiveness has been lost.”
The May 24 measures placed restrictions on five key areas of inter-Korean commerce, including prohibiting North Korean vessels from navigating South Korean territorial waters, including the Jeju Strait.
The MOU spokesperson on Friday, however, said that ban could be relaxed if and when the two Koreas agreed to it.
“Among the five clauses, there are matters that require additional discussion between the South and the North” in order to relax the sanctions, Yoh explained.
“For example, regarding the problem on the North’s vessels going through the Jeju Strait… we need renewed agreement on maritime communication between the South and the North,” he continued.
“If the two come to a consensus regarding the logistics of maritime affairs communication, the vessel passage of the South and the North in their respective areas will be made possible.”
The ministry spokesperson stressed again Friday that the May 24 sanctions do not serve as a barrier to “realizing inter-Korean exchanges and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” while stipulating that the ministry is not calling for a “lifting” of the measures.
But even if the two Koreas were to come to an agreement and North Koreans vessels were allowed to traverse South Korean waters, international sanctions would still, on paper, require Seoul to exercise due diligence.
UN Resolution 2397, passed in December 2017, obliges member states to detain vessels suspected of being involved in illicit activity.
“Member States shall seize, inspect, and freeze (impound) any vessel in their ports, and may seize, inspect, and freeze (impound) any vessel subject to its jurisdiction in its territorial waters, if the Member State has reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel was involved in activities, or the transport of items prohibited by resolutions,” paragraph nine reads — a clause that could apply to almost all North Korea’s international shipping.
Regarding the ministry’s cautious choice of words, one expert said the Moon administration was likely hoping to avoid a political backlash at home while at the same time sending a conciliatory message to the North.
“Official scrapping of the May 24 measures by the current administration without the North’s formal apologies on the sinking of Cheonan will draw strong backlash from the opposition party and conservative groups” in South Korea, said Cheong Seong-chang, Director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.
“North Korea — whenever they had a chance — has constantly urged the South to get rid of the May 24 Measures,” he continued, while adding that Pyongyang will likely not make its feelings known in response anytime soon.
“I presume the North will secretly think highly of the MOU spokesperson-level announcement of Seoul’s stance that the measures have lost much of their effect in reality.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
North Korean vessels could be allowed to enter South Korea's territorial waters in the event of an agreement between the two Koreas, Seoul's Ministry of Unification (MOU) said Friday.
Reiterating the government's position this week that the "May 24" sanctions -- introduced in response to the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette in 2010 -- do not represent a barrier to inter-Korean cooperation and exchange, MOU spokesperson Yoh Sangkey said "the measures' effectiveness has been lost."