Cheonan Conspiracy Theorists Are Shooting Themselves in the Foot

      September 28, 2010 13:01

      Jeong Woo-sang

      Even after the final report of an international inquiry into the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan was published, conspiracy theories keep flying around. But the paradox these conspiracy mongers overlook is that they do not help their cause: if these people want six-party nuclear talks to resume and Seoul to give aid to North Korea, Pyonyang will have to apologize for the sinking, but the more traction these conspiracy theories gain, the less incentive the North has to do so.   

      Pyongyang is already making various overtures to get out from under crushing sanctions imposed since it torpedoed the Cheonan or solicit a humanitarian aid. It has requested aid for flood victims and proposed fresh reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Seoul has promised to ship W10 billion (US$1=W1,148) worth of humanitarian aid and is discussing the reunion issue with a view to making it a regular event. But the government insists that North Korea must apologize if any more substantial assistance is to be forthcoming. That is only natural.

      "Progress on the humanitarian aid issue could lead to contact between the two governments, and if that happens, the Cheoan issue may be discussed," said one government official. Once the North behaves more responsibly over the Cheonan sinking, Seoul too could change its attitude on aid and the six-party talks, but for the time being nothing can be done.  

      No doubt it is not easy for the North to admit that it sank the Cheonan. Pyongyang has yet to admit responsibility for the 1983 terrorist attack at the Aung San Cemetery in Burma that killed several senior South Korean officials and the bombing of the Korean Air flight 858 in 1987 even though the North Korean agents involved were arrested. The government, though it does not say so officially, is not even demanding a clear-cut apology. A roundabout admission of responsibility might be acceptable, officials say.   

      This is not impossible, especially if the North finds itself in dire straits. After all, when a North Korean commando sneaked into Seoul in an attempt on the life of president Park Chung-hee in 1968, Kim Il-sung at least claimed this was an act committed by rogue agents.   

      But as long as the conspiracy theories saying that the North did not attack the Cheonan and that the government fabricated the evidence continue to gain ground, Pyongyang will find it hard to change its position, especially because that would make pro-Pyongyang forces in the South look stupid. The government has kept various options open, but the conspiracy theorists are in fact leaving the North very little choice.   

      At present, there are only two options. Either the North admits responsibility in a roundabout way, or a miracle occurs exonerating Pyongyang and proving that South Korea sank its own ship on purpose. Even the most block-headed conspiracy theorists must know which is the likelier scenario. They should know that it is they, not the government, who drag the North down.

      By Jeong Woo-sang from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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