President Lee Myung-bak will meet with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Shanghai on Friday. Last Saturday, a day before the summit was announced, the military pulled the bow of the sunken Navy corvette Cheonan out of the West Sea and brought it to the Second Navy Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The stern of the vessel had been recovered on April 15. The investigation team said on Sunday that based on a visual scan of the wreckage, a "non-contact external explosion," rather than a direct hit, was the most likely cause behind the mysterious sinking. The team added that the explosion could have resulted from either a torpedo or a mine.
The West Sea is traversed by South Korean, North Korean and Chinese ships and the waters where the disaster occurred are frequented only by ships based either in the North or South. That means if the Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo or a mine, the identity of the culprit is clear as day. All the investigation team has to do in that case is to find evidence to prove the suspicion based on scientific analysis that the world can accept without question.
The government's work starts from there. It must first make sure that the state funeral for the fallen sailors is observed by the entire public so that their sacrifices will not be forgotten. The second task is to use all available resources to punish those responsible for the blast that took the lives of dozens of South Korean sailors.
This is where the South Korea-China summit on Friday has a part to play. Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking defector from the North who knows a lot about North Korea-China relations, said recently that Beijing "should be made to participate in the investigation of the Cheonan's sinking to show Beijing the extent of North Korea's actions and give the Chinese government a reason to support or oppose the North." China's participation is necessary to ensure the objectivity of the investigation and to pave the way for punitive measures against the culprit.
North Korea relies on China for more than 80 percent of its energy, food and other strategic goods, as well as its trade with other countries. As a result, lack of cooperation from Beijing would make any sanctions against North Korea ineffective. A veto by China, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, would disable any sanctions the international body can throw at North Korea.
China had been oddly silent about the sinking of the Cheonan until last Thursday, when a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to a reporter's question about the sinking merely that it was an "unfortunate incident." But a torpedo or mine attack against the Cheonan would inevitably have an impact on China. A large portion of China's exports and imports pass through the West Sea, and the safety of that maritime route had a direct influence in China's emergence as a global superpower. If a new type of terrorism, like the one that sunk the Cheonan, threatens global trade routes, the Chinese and U.S. economies would be the ones suffering the most.
Lee must explain these factors to Hu during their meeting and convince China to take an objective stance befitting its international status over the sinking of the Cheonan, so that the safety on the world's maritime routes can be guaranteed. All South Koreans will keep an eye on the summit, and the way they judge China's response will affect relations between the two nations for 100 years.