As news reports suggest that an international investigation will soon announce that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan, South Korean military sources are leaking information that, if true, seems reasonably conclusive:
“In a search using fishing trawlers, we recently discovered pieces of debris that are believed to have come from the propeller of the torpedo that attacked the Cheonan,” a high-ranking government source said Monday. “Analysis of the debris shows it may have originated from China or a former Eastern-bloc country like the former Soviet Union.” [Chosun Ilbo]
Investigators are now comparing these exemplars to a North Korean training torpedo they recovered several years ago. Explosive traces also implicate North Korea.
According to the source, traces of RDX and TNT were discovered on the sheared section of the ship and metal debris from the site. An analysis of the explosives showed that the mixture matches those used in countries of the former communist bloc, such as Russia, China and North Korea.
“While RDX’s composition is similar worldwide, TNT mixtures differ from those used in the United States and England and others used in the former communist bloc,” he said. While South Korean weapons use American-style TNT, North Korea manufactures arms by the Chinese and former Soviet models. “By analyzing the mixtures of TNT, a crucial ingredient of a torpedo, we can conclude the builder,” he said. [Joongang Ilbo]
John Feffer was not available for comment.
“The analysis of metal pieces and traces of explosive recovered from the Cheonan and the seabed led us to secure decisive evidence that there was a North Korean torpedo attack,” Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying. [AFP]
Decisive — unless, of course, you have a vested interest in denying it. Say, for example, that the investigation is suggesting that your country may have manufactured the torpedo that your client state used to sink the ship. What do you do now? Feign anger or question the evidence? If you’re China, the answer appears to be “both:”
Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Zhang Xinsen on Monday downplayed evidence that North Korea was behind the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26. “Findings revealed so far seem to show that there is no solid evidence for who did it,” Democratic Party Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kim Yoo-jung quoted Zhang as saying in a meeting with DP chairman Chung Se-kyun. [Chosun Ilbo]
Yet simultaneously, and just as I predicted, the official Chinese media have been directed to express a vague sense of irritation at North Korea:
“It must be borne in mind by North Korea that it is playing a dangerous game with Northeast Asian powers while relying on its considerably weak national strength,” said the Global Times in Thursday’s opinion section. [....]
“North Korea is dancing haphazardly along the nuclear tightrope, fraying the nerves of every world power. It is apparently proud, believing that it has played a dominant role,” the Global Times said. “But North Korea fails to realize that the most dangerous role is the one the country itself is playing.” [Yonhap]
I don’t doubt that the Chinese probably think the sinking of the Cheonan was out of bounds, dangerous, and an embarrassment. Privately, they may be irritated with the North Koreans, although they don’t show many signs of it publicly. And the fact that they’ve directed their mouthpieces to express irritation is probative of nothing other than their recognition that their wildly inappropriate invitation of Kim Jong Il to China, a week after the Cheonan dead were buried, has become a big P.R. problem for them in South Korean and Washington. The real question, of course, is what this really means in practice for China’s material support for Kim Jong Il’s regime. My prediction is that until the continuation of Kim Jong Il’s misrule represents a security threat to China, it will mean nothing.
United in denial with the Chinese are their new best pals in the Democratic Party, who continue to behave like paragons of what a responsible loyal opposition ought to be, namely by announcing that they’ll refuse to accept the results of the investigation without having even seen the evidence:
The Democratic, Democratic Labor, Creative Korea and People’s Participation parties joined the conference along with the leaders of 13 religious and civic groups.
In a joint statement, they challenged the probe’s veracity and criticized the government for keeping key evidence secret, including survivors’ testimonies and military communication logs from the time of the sinking. “No matter what the probe’s outcome is,” the liberals said, “the public will have to doubt its validity.
“A hasty conclusion without clear evidence and international recognition will only bring about distrust and criticism at home and abroad,” they continued, demanding raw evidence from the probe be disclosed with its conclusions.
Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said, “I am not convinced that there’s a need for the investigation to announce its conclusion and the president to have a special press conference ahead of the local elections. I will not allow the Cheonan’s sinking to be politicized. [Joongang Ilbo]
… he said, without intentional irony. Similarly, in the Cheonan investigation itself, the opposition nominee to the investigation has demonstrated that spirit of patriotic teamwork that allows political parties within a democracy to set aside their partisan differences and close ranks with their countrymen during a national crisis:
Won said the ministry asked parliament to replace one opposition-designated member, Shin Sang-chul, accusing him of spreading groundless rumors without participating in the probe. Shin, who operates a Web site carrying columns and commentaries on political issues, has claimed that the ship ran aground and sank.
Shin “hurt the image of the joint investigation team by putting forward his personal opinions” before an official conclusion is made, Won said. “He has not been working as an investigator after attending only one meeting.” Shin was not immediately available for comment. [Yonhap]
Here’s hoping that South Korean voters give the South Korean left the electoral punishment it has so justly earned through its recent behavior.
For its part, the South Korean government now turns to the question of its many citizens who are still in North Korea (and, it would seem, stuck in a bygone and failed experiment called “Sunshine”). It is now issuing a travel advisory that seems aimed at getting its every potential hostage out of the North before the South announces the results of the investigation.