N.Korean Denials Parrot S.Korean Conspiracy Theorists

Pak Rim-su, the director of the policy department at North Koreas National Defense Commission, talks at a press conference about the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in Pyongyang on Friday. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-AFP Pak Rim-su, the director of the policy department at North Korea's National Defense Commission, talks at a press conference about the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in Pyongyang on Friday. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-AFP

A considerable portion of North Korea's denials over the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan at a press conference Friday sounded culled from the arguments of some South Korean politicians and websites rather than any brainwave the North experienced. North Korea closely monitors South Korean political debate with an eye to exploiting any chink in the structure.

North Korea apparently sent diplomats to countries that condemned the Cheonan sinking to claim the U.S. Navy mistakenly blew up the ship during a joint South Korea-U.S. military drill. The hypothesis had spread quickly after a news agency reported it on March 29, and even though the agency later corrected it, the damage was done. The National Assembly at the time even asked the Defense Ministry to confirm the report.

An alternative hypothesis which says a U.S. nuclear submarine collided with the Cheonan, accompanied by a picture of a nuclear sub being repaired in Hawaii, also went viral online. But both stories disappeared when international investigators found the remains of a North Korean torpedo.

Then Chung Se-hyun, a former unification minister under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, cast doubt on the serial number found on the torpedo's propulsion shaft, saying the style of numbering "is not used in North Korea." At the press conference, the North Koreans duly picked up this point, claiming that the word for "number" on the torpedo “is used only for athletes." However, evidence to the contrary can be found on every page of the official North Korean newspapers, which use the same word to number anything from trains to individuals.

The North Koreans also repeated a claim that dissenters in the international investigation team had been sidelined and civilian investigators excluded from some investigation processes, which was apparently taken verbatim from remarks by Shin Sang-cheol, a South Korean proponent of the fallacious numbering theory.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 31, 2010 13:41 KST