Politicians and the Public Must Join Hands in This Crisis

      March 30, 2010 13:18

      South Korean officials are focusing their investigation on the possibility that a floating mine or torpedo caused the Navy corvette Cheonan to sink. "We cannot draw any hasty conclusions until we complete a thorough investigation of the sunken vessel after retrieving it from the ocean," said one South Korean government official. "There is only a slight possibility that the Cheonan was split in half due to a flaw in the vessel or an accidental collision with a submerged rock." Only a torpedo or mine would be powerful enough to split the 1,200-ton vessel in half, officials say.

      If the Cheonan was attacked by a torpedo, it would be a clear armed provocation and an act of war according to international law. The use of a floating mine could also be construed as an act of armed aggression under international law. North Korea would be the first suspect if either is determined to have been the cause of the wreck. North Korea contests the legitimacy of the Northern Limit Line that serves as a de facto maritime border and has engaged in destructive acts of provocation in the area using patrol boats and semi-submersibles. So far, there is no evidence linking North Korea with the fate of the Cheonan, and a mine could have been set by the North a long time ago and simply floated into the South Korean side of the waters.

      Nothing is certain until the vessel is hauled ashore. It took 17 days to salvage the 130-ton patrol boat that sank after engaging North Korean ships during the second naval clash in the West Sea in 2002. It will take even more time to salvage the Cheonan, which weighs almost 10 times more.

      But if a North Korean provocation can be proven, South Korea will face a national crisis. The government, politicians, the business community and citizens must prepare for this situation. The government must take meticulous steps to determine the cause of the tragedy, rescue the missing sailors and prepare for every possible scenario along the way so that the public can trust it.

      Fortunately, U.S. naval vessels, including salvage and rescue ships, began joint operations near Baeknyeong Island with the South Korean Navy. Cooperation and unity between South Korean and U.S. forces in such times can go a long way in alleviating the anxiety felt by the public and the international community.

      Politicians here must overcome their differences to deal with this crisis. The public must provide strength and support for the government as well. This is the time to demonstrate the true capacity of the Republic of Korea.

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