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Sinking of South Korean Warship Could be Viewed as “Act of War,”says Law School’s Korean Expert

Jeong-Ho Roh of Center for Korean Legal Studies Says Latest Provocation May Have Been Way for Kim Jong-Il to Curry Favor in Pyongyang

 

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New York, May 21, 2010--If North Korea is indeed to blame for sinking of a South Korean warship, that attack could be viewed as an "act of war,” according to Jeong-Ho Roh, the Director of the Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia Law School.
 
Provocations from both Seoul and Pyongyang have escalated in the aftermath of the incident, although inflammatory comments have been a constant in tense regional relations.
 
The March 26 attack killed 46 sailors in South Korean waters. That made the torpedo strike a case of a "warship on routine actions being sunk without provocation,” Roh explained. “Under generally accepted principles of international law, this act could be interpreted as an act of war.”
 
Furthermore, Roh explained, “in terms of the general state of hostilities perpetrated by the North, this act now invokes a violation of the Armistice Agreement from the Korean War as well as the U.N. charter”.
 
The attack has led to widespread international condemnation, including from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who warned Pyongyang of international consequences. North Korea has said any new sanctions imposed on it by the international community would be met with “strong measures, including a full-scale war”.
 
Roh said that was mostly a “standard response by North Korea to every act of hostility that it feels has been levied against them”. What makes this situation somewhat different, he noted, was the general “lack of rhetoric that usually has accompanied an official response to these kind of situations.”
 
Roh also pointed out that because North Korea is isolated from world trade and already faces heavy economic sanctions, the effect of new measures may be limited. “It is hard to take something away from someone who has nothing,” he said.
 
Yet sanctions would carry added weight during a time in which North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il “desperately needs to have credibility at home, and certainly a strong international response including sanctions will undoubtedly have an adverse effect domestically.”
 
The onus to act, Roh said, falls on China. “The U.S. “simply cannot pursue any meaningful action against North Korea without at least the tacit consent of China.”
 
“I would be surprised if China takes a strong position against North Korea on this,” Roh added, “but I would not be surprised if indirectly they ‘bow’ to international pressure against North Korea.”
 
Shifting his focus to Chinese officials, Roh said “this is an opportunity for China to really show itself to be a responsible member of the international community and perhaps even gain some leverage with the United States during its upcoming meeting.”
 
(written by Zachary Glubiak)
 
 
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