South Korea has concluded that North Korea sank one of its warships in March close to their disputed border with the loss of 46 lives, Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
The finding may hamper a resumption of nuclear disarmament talks with Kim Jong Il’s regime as public ire builds in South Korea, said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University. Kim Jong Il reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week, Xinhua News reported today.
Confirmation of a North Korean attack may pressure South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to coordinate an international response, shifting focus away from resuming nuclear negotiations. Lee’s office said yesterday there would be no six-party nuclear talks with North Korea until the sinking incident is resolved.
“Delaying the six-party talks is one tactic South Korea can use for now in meeting mounting public pressure to take some kind of action,” Dongguk University’s Kim said. “This can’t last too long as China and the U.S. would ultimately want to proceed with the nuclear disarmament process.”
Kim Jong Il met with China’s Hu between May 3 and 7, on an “unofficial visit,” Xinhua said, without specifying the date and publishing a photo of the two leaders shaking hands. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency also reported the trip earlier today.
During the meeting Hu outlined a plan to boost North Korean relations with high-level meetings, increased trade and cooperation, according to Xinhua. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said China is willing to help North Korea develop its economy and to share its experiences in opening up to the world.
Hu accompanied Kim to a “bio-company” in Beijing and the North Korean leader also visited ports and companies in cities including Dalian, Tianjin, Beijing and Shenyang, the state news agency said.
China briefed South Korea on Kim’s visit today, Kim Sung Hwan, South Korea’s presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security told reporters today in Seoul, without further explanation.
Credit-default swaps on South Korean sovereign debt climbed 17 basis points to 134.4 today, the highest since September, according to CMA DataVision prices. The gain indicates increased credit risk.
South Korean and U.S. investigators have collected three pieces of “definitive circumstantial evidence” using satellite images and reconnaissance aircraft, Chosun reported, citing South Korean officials it didn’t identify. South Korea also tracked a North Korean submarine that probably fired on the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26, the Korean-language report said.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Defense Ministry and presidential office declined to comment on the Chosun Ilbo report.
China is host of nuclear talks that also include Japan and Russia. The forum last met in December 2008 and Kim’s regime vowed in April 2009 to never return to the negotiating table.
Lee has vowed to take a “resolute” response against those held responsible for the ship sinking, which he said wasn’t caused by a “simple accident.” South Korea’s Defense Ministry has said a torpedo most likely caused an explosion that split the patrol ship apart. North Korea on April 17 denied it had anything to do with the incident.
Results of the investigation may be announced after May 20 and a U.S. State Department official may visit South Korea to announce a joint response, Chosun said.
North Korea has been implicated in previous attacks on the South, including assassination attempts on presidents and the downing of a commercial airliner in 1987, without provoking a military confrontation, said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA and defense intelligence analyst.
“No one was talking or even hinting about any kind of military attack,” Klingner said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation policy group. “One cannot guarantee that it would not lead to a series of escalations, possibly resulting in an all-out conflict.”
The Kospi share index declined 2.2 percent in Seoul, in- line with other Asian benchmarks falling on concern the European debt crisis will spread. The won slid to its weakest level in almost three months.
South Korea and the U.S. may appeal to the United Nations Security Council to punish North Korea, which would depend on how much support they get from China and Russia, said Richard Bush, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
“I think the most important thing is to go to China and basically say, ‘How can you defend these guys? How can you continue to defend them when they’re acting in this way?’” Bush said in a telephone interview.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at email@example.com