EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest Op-ed from Henry Seggerman, Manager of Korea International Investment Fund
Yes, you read that correctly. Allow North Koreans onto Yeonpyeong Island. My argument here is that the Northern Limit Line (NLL) is fundamentally unfair to North
Korea, and that South Korea should at long last address this problem.
Before I’m locked away for violating the NSA, allow me to caveat the controversial statement above.
I still believe North Korea is a full-fledged member of the Axis of Evil. The regime leaders are guilty of crimes against humanity, for which they should be tried and
punished. I also still believe in the only morally acceptable reunification would be full absorption of North Korea into a capitalist democratic unified Korea.
BUT (and this is an important BUT), South Korea is paralyzed in a North Korean policy loaded with inconsistencies. In two blatant acts of war, North Korea killed 46 Cheonan
sailors and four people on Yeonpyeong Island. Proportionate retaliations would arguably have killed 50 North Koreans. But this could never happen. Why not? Because North Korea has 11,000 cannons pointing at Seoul and really could turn it into a “sea of fire.” So, South Korea has spent nearly two years limiting its “retaliation” to rather feeble verbal demands for an apology from North Korea, which obviously is never coming.
Meanwhile, the Kaesong Industrial Park continues providing North Korea about $1 billion in annual revenue. Closing Kaesong would be a perfectly reasonable response
to the North Korea’s killing of 50 South Koreans, but somehow this does not occur to South Korea. Since South Korea is neither going to retaliate militarily against North
Korea’s killing of 50 South Koreans, nor stop giving the North nearly $1 billion in revenue at Kaesong, then it’s perfectly reasonable for me to discuss revisiting the NLL.
Economically speaking, doing so would not be the kind of free handout South Korea gives the North at Kaesong.
No peace agreement was ever signed ending the Korean War, only an armistice. Separate from even the armistice, the UN unilaterally drew the Northern Limit Line
without any consent sought from, or given by, North Korea.
The NLL runs for 100 kilometers, hugging North Korea’s coastline sometimes by less than five kilometers. It forces North Korean trade ships to make an awkward 100-
kilometer northbound detour before they are able to head out into open sea. This is particularly galling given that Haeju, at the southern end of the NLL, is the only port in
North Korea which does not freeze over in the winter. Hardly a month goes by without another angry complaint about the NLL coming from the DPRK.
Of course we stopped taking those purplish, bellicose KCNA press releases seriously years ago. However, when they say US and ROK drills at the NLL are a provocation,
they really do have a point. Imagine your pet dog was bitten by a rat and is rabid. Then you take his leash and pull it as tight as you can around his neck. What kind of response do you expect? The US/ROK West Sea drills hugging the very edge of the NLL are a constant reminder of the punitive, arbitrary NLL, never agreed to by North Korea.
Loosening up the NLL is not my crazy new idea. Actually, I borrowed it from South Korea’s last President. Less than five years ago, Roh Moo-hyun diverted enough
attention from the endless nuclear shell game to negotiate a “special peace and cooperation zone in the West Sea encompassing Haeju and vicinity” with North Korea.
Near the end of his rule the deal did not close, and it was certainly not revived by the new conservative administration that marched into the Blue House.
Why not revive President Roh’s idea? Given Park Won-soon’s recent victory in the Seoul mayoral race, the DUP may “occupy” the Blue House this Fall. If that is the outcome, pursuing President Roh’s West Sea deal may be a possibility. In fact, both Saenuri’s Park Geun-hye and DUP’s Han Myeong-sook are already offering to engage with the DPRK’s new leadership. Eliminating the NLL dispute would remove a dangerously lethal and completely unnecessary flashpoint in North-South relations.
After the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong killings, making any West Sea concessions to North Korea will obviously inflame sensitivities in the South. On top of that, KCNA will
surely trumpet that the DPRK has “dealt a merciless revolutionary blow to the imperialist stooges of the ROK.”
But why not think up a more creative deal? For example, why not offer some of President Roh’s NLL concessions if the DPRK agrees to move the 11,000 cannons far away from Seoul? Or come up with some other deal which relieves tension and can be seen as advantageous to both sides?
Given the untimely ends met by Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, who abandoned their nuclear programs and were later executed, moving the 11,000 cannons
will be a much easier sell to the DPRK regime than giving up its nuclear weapons. Over the years, there have been numerous West Sea skirmishes between North and South
Korea, and it is not unreasonable for us to expect more. And there is a lot more danger of a terrible KPA cannon barrage on Seoul than the DPRK starting World War III with its pop-gun nuclear arsenal.
Henry Seggerman is the Manager of Korea International Investment Fund, the oldest hedge fund in Korea. The views expressed herein are the author’s own, and do not
reflect the views of this newspaper.