Unification Ministry Stands Firm on Sanctions Against N.Korea

      July 13, 2010 12:10

      The government on May 24 announced sanctions against North Korea for sinking the Navy corvette Cheonan, but many of them, from a joint maritime drill with the U.S. to the resumption of so-called psychological warfare, have been delayed or scaled down or are effectively dead in the water in the face of firm resistance from China and North Korea. Only the Unification Ministry has been able to steer a relatively steady course in suspending trade with the North except the joint Keasong Industrial Complex project.

      The Foreign Ministry failed to have North Korea pinpointed as the culprit behind the sinking in the UN Security Council chairman's statement. The Defense Ministry not only put the resumption of psychological warfare on indefinite hold, but also changed plans for the joint naval exercise with the U.S. in the West Sea. The drill is now to be staged in the East Sea too, where a large portion of the key U.S. vessels, such as the nuclear-powered 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS George Washington, an Aegis cruiser and destroyer, and a nuclear-powered attack submarine, will go to spare China the sight of them.

      The plan to squeeze the North from all directions through diplomacy, defense and inter-Korean projects has faltered, and so far only cross-border economic pressure is holding out.

      A Unification Ministry official said Monday, "As in a football game, we need a triangular offensive by the Foreign, Defense and Unification ministries. But the Unification Ministry is isolated at the front and subject to pressures from both the right and left."

      Businesspeople engaged in North Korean projects say they will be ruined if trade is not resumed soon, and leftists are expected to demand resumption of large-scale aid to the North and brand the Unification Ministry an anti-unification force, a government official said.

      But the government says it is standing firm. "We can't go back to the past as if nothing had happened when 46 officers and sailors have lost their lives," said a Cheong Wa Dae official. Unification Ministry Hyun In-taek, at a lecture last Thursday, said, "The current strain in inter-Korean relations has been caused by the mistakes North Korean leadership has committed. We are being criticized by people who have never uttered a word against the North over the attack on the Cheonan."     

      Hyun said his ministry is looking at ways to help businesses engaging in cross-border trade. It is considering expanding the scale of support from the inter-Korean economic cooperation fund from W50 billion to W60 billion, lowering interest on loans, increasing the number of South Korean staff at the Kaesong industrial park.

      But these steps "are only designed to resolve the difficulties of businessmen," said a security official. "No measures will be taken for the time to renew the flow of hard currency to the North." But a researcher at a state-run think tank warned North Korea could take advantage of the chill and try once again to deal directly with the United States and freeze out South Korea.  

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