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UN Security Council Adopts Presidential Statement on Sinking of South Korean Patrol Vessel [ 2010.08.26 ]

[NewsJapan.net] The United Nations Security Council on July 9 held a formal meeting to discuss the sinking of a South Korean patrol vessel in March of this year. The Council unanimously adopted a presidential statement condemning the attack that led to the sinking. While not directly pointing a finger at North Korea by name, the statement represented an indirect censure of Pyongyang.

Avoids Naming but Indirectly Censures Pyongyang

It was on March 26 of this year that a South Korean naval vessel sank in the Yellow Sea to the west of the Korean Peninsula, resulting in the loss of lives of 46 sailors. The Joint Civilian-Military Investigative Group looking into the incident in May insisted that the sinking occurred as a result of an external underwater explosion caused by a torpedo made in North Korea and concluded, “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation.” Based on this conclusion, Seoul turned to the UN Security Council on June 4 for discussions on how to deal with the matter.

After about a month of negotiations, the UN Security Council adopted a presidential statement that indirectly censured North Korea, saying, “In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group, which concluded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was responsible for the sinking, the Security Council expresses its deep concern” and “the Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking.” On the other hand, the statement avoided naming North Korea as the culprit behind the attack and said that the UN Security Council took note of Pyongyang’s assertion that it had nothing to do with the incident.

According to major Japanese newspapers, South Korea, together with Japan and the United States, which both support it on this issue, had hoped that the UN Security Council would adopt not a presidential statement but a resolution, which is the most binding of all UN Security Council documents. The three countries also called for a strong condemnation of North Korea by name and a demand for an apology from it. However, China and Russia remained cautious about adopting a resolution or directly condemning Pyongyang. China reportedly was strongly opposed to the idea, saying that either a resolution or a statement condemning North Korea by name could drive Pyongyang into a corner and provoke it militarily (Asahi Shimbun, July 10, and other sources).

In the evening of July 9, Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada issued a statement welcoming the adoption of the presidential statement, saying, “The presidential statement is a clear message of the international community against the attack by North Korea.” He went on, “Japan strongly urges North Korea to listen seriously to this concerted message of the international community and to refrain from taking action that would negatively affect the situation. Japan will continue its close coordination and cooperation with the countries concerned, including the ROK and the United States.”

The formal declaration of last month’s G8 summit in Canada also virtually condemned Pyongyang for the sinking of the South Korean patrol vessel.

Newspaper Editorials

Four of Japan’s five national newspapers carried editorials on the matter.

The Yomiuri Shimbun editorial (July 11), titled “Maintain vigilance against North Korea,” gave a positive evaluation of the presidential statement to an extent, saying, “. . . it was a welcome development that the Security Council was unanimous in expressing its will to thwart any attack or other hostile action that would further aggravate the situation.” However, it went on to express dissatisfaction with the contents of the statement, saying, “. . . diplomatic bargaining rendered the presidential statement unsatisfactory because of its opacity on the crucial point of who attacked the South Korean vessel.” After pointing out that the sinking of the patrol vessel occurred in the midst of an unstable situation in North Korea, which has been rocked by anxiety over the declining health of its leader, Kim Jong Il, and the country's economic plight, the Yomiuri argued, “Given North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, we must never omit precautions for unexpected contingencies. Now is the time for Japan, South Korea and the United States to first start discussions on contingency planning.”

Under the title “Harsh look at North Korea,” the Asahi editorial (July 11) pointed out, “North Korea seems to be taking the matter lightly because it was not condemned by name, but what North Korea should recognize is the cold eye cast on it by the international community. . . . China and Russia opposed directly condemning North Korea this time, not because they tried to protect it but because they thought raising tension would damage their own national interests.” The Asahi went on to criticize the North, which has been rushing amid economic collapse to establish a regime to succeed Kim Jong Il, saying, “Even if it builds a regime, Pyongyang will not be able to get out of its difficulties without support and cooperation from the international community. Without a change in the present situation, the North will eventually come to a dead end.”

The Mainichi Shimbun editorial (July 10), titled “Doubts remain if UNSC presidential statement on South Korean ship sinking can contain North Korea,” observed, “The presidential statement bears a close resemblance to the declaration issued by the Group of Eight at their summit meeting last month in that both statements can be interpreted as a condemnation of North Korea for the incident. At the same time, however, the UN Security Council’s presidential statement takes note of North Korea’s claim that it was not responsible. This is the work of China---not a member of the G8---which held fast to its demand that the UN Security Council not single out Pyongyang as the culprit.” Calling on China to take responsibility, it went on, “China must assume new responsibility for North Korea’s acts in the future. It is only reasonable to conclude that if China turns a blind eye to the torpedoing of South Korea’s vessel and covers up for North Korea, then Beijing should exercise its enormous influence on Pyongyang to prevent any recurrence.”

The Sankei Shimbun editorial (July 11), headlined “Presidential statement ineffective and utterly insufficient,” stressed, “The incident of the patrol vessel’s sinking, which claimed the lives of 46 people, was an illegal military action by North Korea. This is a serious challenge to the Security Council, whose responsibility is the collective maintenance of international peace and security. China, Russia, and other permanent members of the UN Security Council are therefore responsible for not being able to come up with an effective resolution. The incident should not be considered closed with this statement. While tenaciously urging the UNSC to take action, Japan, the United States, and South Korea must put pressure on the North through their own sanctions and coordinated action. We hope they will deepen their solidarity for this purpose.”

(Copyright 2010 Foreign Press Center, Japan)

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