North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Cheonan Sinking Likely to Postpone 6PT Resumption

The Cheonan has been raised, and the investigation’s preliminary determination is that the sinking of the ROK naval corvette was caused by an external explosion.  Chang Jae-soon writes for Yonhap:

“Rather than an internal explosion, the possibility of an external explosion is very high,” said Yoon Duk-yong, co-head of the state investigation team looking into the March 26 sinking of the 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan. “But for a final conclusion, it is necessary to make a detailed analysis while leaving all possibilities open.”

The assessment appears to bolster suspicions of a torpedo or sea mine explosion and North Korea’s possible involvement in the disaster, considered the worst in South Korea’s naval history with dozens of deaths.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said South Korea sees the sinking as “a grave national security issue.”

“As soon as the investigation result comes out, we will make it public without leaving a dot of suspicion and work out the next step in a clear and stern manner,” he said in an address to the nation.

It was reported earlier this week by Dong-a Ilbo that the ROK requested the US to delay possible interactions with the DPRK, including the granting of an entry visa to MOFA Vice Minister and NK 6 PT manager, Kim Kye Gwan.  ROK officials also said this week that it is unlikely the Six Party Talks would resume if evidence pointed to the DPRK’s invovlement in the Cheonan’s sinking:

“We’ve not yet fixed a concrete plan for the game, but we may face criticism from the media if we reopen the talks after North Korea’s involvement is confirmed,” the official said, asking anonymity.

South Korea has not yet determined the cause of the sinking, which left two sailors dead and 44 others missing, but Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said that a North Korean torpedo attack remains a possibility.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has vowed his government will “respond in a firm manner” in the event of North Korea’s involvement, muddying prospects for the restart of the nuclear talks. The six-nation negotiations have been stalled since early last year, when the United Nations imposed sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests.

LMB and most other government officials (with the exception of ROK Defense Minister Kim Tae-young) have been rather cautious about accusing the DPRK of, actively or passively, sinking the Cheonan.  In the last week, speculation about DPRK involvement has been gathering in the ROK press.  A report earlier this week quoted an anonymous ROK military official who accused a bureau subordinate to the National Defense Commission of an organized attack.

China, host country of the 6 PT, felt compelled to issue a preemptive statement on Tuesday to discourage speculation of the talks’ being postponed.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news conference on 13 April that the Chinese side hopes the relevant parties will persist in contacts and dialogues, show flexibility, and move toward each other so as to create conditions for reopening the six-party talks.

In response to a question on the six-party talks, Jiang Yu said that recently the relevant parties have strengthened contacts, made joint efforts, and discussed how to reopen the six-party talks.

China’s statement came not only as suspicions gathered about the DPRK’s involvement in the Cheonan’s sinking, but also as the country proceeded to seize assets at Mount Kumgang and evicted four Korean-Chinese employees of the Inter-Korean project.

An affiliate of 38 North