Friday, 30 July 2010

The Sinking of the Cheonan and Its Political Uses

The centerpiece of the case against North Korea is without doubt the torpedo fragments retrieved by trawlers. At the JIG press conference announcing the results of its investigation, a diagram said to be that of the CHT-02D was displayed. It was not until over one month later, after critics had pointed to discrepancies between the diagram and the torpedo fragments, that the JIG admitted that it had shown a diagram of the wrong torpedo, the PT-97W. This was said to have been caused by a "mix-up by a staff member while preparing for the presentation." (11) That such a mistake could be made is indicative of a careless attitude concerning evidence.

This was not the only point of confusion. One day before the JIG's final results were announced, a Korean government official was quoted as saying that investigators had determined that North Korea sank the Cheonan with a Chinese-made torpedo, as Chinese characters were written on the torpedo fragments collected from the site. It was said that the torpedo was thought to be a YU-3G, the type North Korea had imported from China more than twenty years ago. (12) One day later, nothing more was said of the matter, and now it was claimed that the torpedo fragments originated from a North Korean-built CHT-02D, with a Korean word written in blue ink. It is true that at one time Hanja (Chinese) characters were incorporated into general usage in Korea, but that practice has long since passed, and not since 1949 have they been used in North Korea. (13) Because the JIG's report remains shrouded in secrecy, it is impossible to know whether or not Chinese characters were truly found on torpedo fragments. If so, that would be at variance with a report that U.S. intelligence had traced the propulsion system on the found torpedo to its manufacture two years ago at a North Korean factory. (14)

It should also be mentioned that the information South Korea had on the CHT-02D was obtained from an export catalogue, as the weapon is among those that North Korea sells abroad. In other words, the torpedo apparently has buyers, and therefore the source of manufacture does not automatically correspond to ownership. So, was the torpedo a Chinese-made YU-3G or a North Korean-made CHT-02D? Or perhaps something else altogether? It is a CHT-02D, the JIG now asserts, without addressing the discrepancy in its claims.
According to a South Korean diplomatic source, "The Russian investigation team's primary interest was in whether North Korea, which had been unable to produce its own torpedoes until 1995, suddenly was able to attack the Cheonan with a state-of-the-art bubble jet torpedo." It has been pointed out that this technology is possessed only by a small number of countries, and the weapon has been successfully used only in test firings on stationary targets. (43)

If a North Korean source speaking on condition of anonymity in Hanoi is to be believed, Russia informed North Korean officials that it did not trust the results of the JIG investigation. "The Russian delegation said if the truth is revealed, then South Korea and the United States could be caught in an awkward position," an apparent reference to the manipulation of evidence. (44)

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, July 30th, 2010.]

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