Rash Words on the Northern Limit Line

Speaking at a meeting he hosted at Cheong Wa Dae for representatives of political parties, President Roh Moo-hyun said the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea, which has functioned as the de-facto sea border between the two Koreas, “was originally a limit line for our naval operations. Some people are calling it a ‘border’ these days. This is a concept that misleads the people”. He added, “Under our Constitution, the territory of North Korea belongs to South Korea. In this context, calling a line in our territory a border confuses me”. This is mere wordplay. Roh’s remarks will lead to a claim that we cannot say that the waters south of the NLL belong to South Korea. Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung earlier said the NLL “is not a border concept” — and, as suspected, it turn out that Roh is behind the argument.

Roh’s logic is the same as the North’s. In the armistice which halted the Korean War in 1953, the basic principle in dividing jurisdiction over islands in the West Sea was to go back to the prewar situation. If the principle is applied properly, South Korea is entitled to control of the northern waters from the NLL. However, the UN troops allowed North Korea to have jurisdiction over islands south of the 38th Parallel, the heavily fortified border that demarcates the two Koreas, and to avoid a maritime blockade in the West Sea. The NLL was the result of that generous concession. And since then, the NLL has been the only line that divides the waters between the two Koreas, and North Korea raised no objection to the de-facto sea border for 20 years. It even acknowledged the NLL as a virtual maritime border at a meeting of the Military Armistice Commission in 1963. In many cases since 1970, when it began provoking South Korea by crossing it, the North has recognized the NLL as a sea border with the South. It is incomprehensible why a South Korean president supports North Koreas claim, ignoring historical facts that have been deemed a fait accompli for 54 years.

Apply the same logic to the matter of the Dokdo islets. From Japan’s point of view, Korea unilaterally claims sovereignty and occupies Dokdo. Can Roh say we should therefore admit that Korea and Japan have never reached a bilateral agreement over the islets? Would he say that national leaders have the responsibility to speak the truth? The president is presenting a very dangerous opinion.

When inter-Korean defense minister talks are held in Pyongyang in November, North Korea is at liberty to quote Roh as saying the NLL is not a border between the two Koreas. The South Korean defense minister would be left speechless. A process to completely settle the sea border issue is necessary, but it should be based on the principle that the 54-year-old NLL is an actual maritime border.

Five South Korean sailors were killed and dozens were injured during armed clashes with North Korean vessels which crossed the NLL in 1999 and 2000. We want to ask President Roh, “For what do you think they sacrificed their lives?” The commander-in-chief is effectively calling the soldiers’ death pointless. We can tolerate his ignorance of their death, but we will not forgive it if the president belittles their sacrifice.

Chosun Ilbo, South Korea
Date : Oct 11, 2007

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