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For S. Korea, West Sea represents a history of conflict

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서해수호의 날 기념

On this fourth Friday of March, Koreans remember those who sacrificed their lives to defend their nation... along the inter-Korean sea border in the West Sea.
An overview of what makes the West Sea such a contentious area that's so ripe for conflict: our news feature tonight with Kim Jung-soo.
The attack on the Cheonan warship was the deadliest ever in the West Sea, claiming the lives of 46 young South Korean sailors.
The remains of the vessel are on display in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do Province by the South Korean Navy's Second Fleet.


"Coming here and learning about it, I start thinking about the possibility that the soldiers could have been part of my family, and that their pains could also have been mine."


"I feel devastated by the sight. I think the navy must become stronger... and I hope the world knows about North Korea's actions."


"The sinking of the Cheonan warship back in 2010 serves as a grim reminder of the fact that peace on the Korean peninsula is not a given, but must be achieved with dedication and sacrifice. Seven years later, however, security conditions in the West Sea have become increasingly complex, making peace a much more difficult goal to attain."

At the heart of the security issue is the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between North and South Korea in the West Sea that runs along five major islands: Baengnyeong-do, Daecheong-do, Socheong-do, Yeonpyeong-do and U-do.


"The concept of the Northern Limit Line was absent from the armistice agreement signed between the UN Command, North Korea and China in July of 1953. Then on August 30th of the same year, the UN Command unilaterally announced the boundaries of the NLL... to keep its own ships from heading up north... and notified North Korea. And for the next 20 years, North Korea didn't make any claims disputing the boundary."

But the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, finalized in 1982, which granted member nations territorial rights over waters less than 12 nautical miles off their coastlines... emboldened North Korea to make its own claims.
In 1999, the North proposed its own version of the Northern Limit Line, saying it had assumed control of the five major West Sea islands -- proclamations that South Korea promptly rejected because it doesn't recognize the North Korean government as legitimate.


"According to the UN convention, the two Koreas need to work out an agreement on waters in which their territorial rights overlap. For that to happen, South Korea must accept North Korea as a proper nation, but our Constitution doesn't see it that way."

There are other points of contention relative to the West Sea.
Seoul and Beijing have repeatedly held talks to try and reach agreement on a mutual boundary for their exclusive economic zones, but that's not their only headache.


"There is an increasing number of so-called maritime militia in China. These are fishermen who are highly trained to use military weaponry, hence they're operating in a gray zone. They don’t use military vessels, so we can’t say whether we should use peacetime or wartime strategies, but they can always be used for real operations."

Meanwhile, some experts speculate that patient negotiations with North Korea could result in a win-win situation for all involved.


"Chinese vessels have purchased fishing rights in North Korea's West Sea territory... and are using the dubious situation along the Northern Limit Line to their advantage. There's no clear-cut way to deal with this problem directly. But if the two Koreas agreed on some way to share the economic zone near the NLL, that could also indirectly solve the problem of Chinese fishing boats."

While the South Korean lives lost near the Northern Limit Line have come as the result of North Korean munitions, it also seems hard to deny that they are, in a sense, victims of a growing international trend that values exclusivity over sharing and mutual benefit --
a trend that, tragically, has resulted in greater disorder in the West Sea.
Kim Jung-soo, Arirang News.

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