S.Korea Dilutes Sanctions to Engage N.Korea

  • By Lee Yong-soo

    May 21, 2020 10:34

    The government on Wednesday said 2010 sanctions against North Korea imposed over the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan are virtually no longer in effect. The sanctions "no longer pose any obstacle to cross-border exchange and cooperation," Unification Ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said.

    They were imposed on May 24, 2010 after the North torpedoed the Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean officers and sailors in waters off Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea.

    The remarks come amid quixotic government efforts here to engage the North in some kind of business. "The impact of the sanctions has been weakened and exceptions were made during previous administrations, so much of their validity has been lost," he said.

    The move is largely symbolic since international sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program are in fact much more comprehensive. But the 2010 sanctions ban "all inter-Korean exchange and cooperation" except then Kaesong Industrial Complex, which has since been shut down.

    They were never officially lifted because North Korea never apologized for the attack or even admitted it. When a North Korean delegation and cheerleaders turned up for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the government made clear it was lifting the sanctions only on a "temporary and exceptional" basis.

    Last May, a ministry spokesman said, "We can be flexible in reassessing our own 2010 sanctions within the framework of the international sanctions on North Korea, but they still remain effective" in response to the torpedo attack.

    In Wednesday's remarks, the official made no reference to the sinking of the Cheonan, which remains a rallying point for hawkish conservatives here.

    Some critics feel that lets North Korea off the hook over the attack, but in practical terms it makes very little difference. The government has been desperately trying to engage North Korea with offers of cooperation, from tourism to forestry, but there has been no reply and much of it is banned under global sanctions and looks like token politics.

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