On March 26 this year, the Cheonan, a South Korean Corvette, sank in waters off Baengnyeong Island. Initial reports from Naval and Intelligence chiefs ruled out foul play:
Won Se-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying during a parliamentary committee session that to his knowledge, there was no direct link between North Korea and the sunken ship.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that he had heard nothing to implicate any other country in the incident.
``Obviously, the full investigation needs to go forward. But to my knowledge, there is no reason to believe or to be concerned that that may have been the cause,'' he said.
Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ruled out the possibility, saying, “No North Korean warships have been detected, and there is no possibility of their approaching the waters where the accident took place.”....
“We closely watched the movement of the North’s vessels, including submarines and semi-submersibles, at the time of the sinking,” said Commodore Lee Gi-sik, chief of information operations under the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul, during a media briefing. “But [the South’s] military did not detect any North Korean submarines near the countries’ western sea border.”
"If a single torpedo or a floating mine caused a naval patrol vessel to split in half and sink, we will have to rewrite our military doctrine," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. Instead, he believes an accident within the vessel is to blame.......
Former Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Song Young-moo, said, "Some people are pointing the finger at North Korea, but anyone with knowledge about the waters where the shipwreck occurred would not draw that conclusion so easily." Experts say those waters are only 25 m deep and characterized by rapid currents, making it very difficult for North Korean submarines or semi-submersible vessels to operate.
Members of the right wing* Government of Lee Myung Bak took a different tack:
A torpedo is among the "most likely" causes for a South Korean naval ship that sank close to the disputed border with North Korea last month, killing at least 40 sailors, South Korea's defense minister said.
At this point, Lee's government put a clamp on speculation, gagging official spokesmen.
On May 20 the South Korean government announced that it has overwhelming evidence that one of its warships was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. The World's press trumpeted that the "International Inquiry" had unanimously agreed that a North Korean torpedo was the culprit.
This was a slight exaggeration. The committee was not "international" in any bi-partisan sense, it comprised North Korean adversaries America, Australia, Britain and neutral Sweden. Neither was it "unanimous. CBS news reported"
Only Sweden, which also sent investigators, is a reluctant partner in blaming the North Koreans.
The "evidence" of North Korean involvement does not pass the sniff test. If indeed the remains of a torpedo was found in the waters near the sinking, there is nothing that links it to the incident and much spent ordnance lies in the area. Compare the condition of the torpedo with that of the sunken ship.
Dissent within South Korea, unnoticed by the Western Press, is growing.
Mr S.C.Shin, one of the original inspectors of the wreck, has written an open letter to Secretary of State Clinton. He maintains that the ship grounded in the shallows of Baengnyeong Island and suffered a collision, probably with a vessel sent to her aid, then sank. Shin is now being prosecuted for "spreading false rumours"
Shin is not alone:
Prime Minister Chung Un Chan ordered the government to find a way to stop groundless rumors spreading on the Cheonan’s sinking, the JoongAng Daily said yesterday. Prosecutors questioned a former member of the panel that probed the incident over his critical comments, the paper said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff sued a lawmaker for defamation after she said video footage of the ship splitting apart existed, a claim the military denies, Yonhap News reported.
Almost one in four South Koreans say they don’t trust the findings of the multinational panel, according to a poll commissioned by Hankook Ilbo on May 24.
Park Sun-won has also been threatened with prosecution for voicing dissent:
Gagging the South Korean public has already been taking place openly. The Ministry of National Defense and the military have pressed defamation charges against former Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) National Security Strategy Secretary Park Sun-won.
South Korean religious leaders question conclusions of the Cheonan sinking investigation
Why have the survivors been strictly separated and controlled since the tragedy happened? Why are they not allowed to say anything about it, though they know the truth best?
It is interesting to note that the Japanese Prime Minister has cited this incident when delivering his unpopular decision to the people of Okinawa:
"TOKYO — Washington and Tokyo agreed Friday to keep a contentious U.S. Marine base in Okinawa, with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama highlighting the importance of the Japanese-American security alliance amid rising tension on the nearby Korean peninsula. "I am sincerely sorry for not being able to keep my word, and what is more, having hurt Okinawans in the end," he said. "In Asia, there still remain unstable and uncertain factors, including the sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea," he said.
Japan's Social Democratic Party, SDP, has decided to leave the ruling coalition government amid a row over the controversial presence of the US military in the country.
The political fortunes of Lee Myung Bak have improved dramatically.
“The investigation results will likely emerge as a key issue, pushing aside all other factors ahead of the elections,” said Lee Chul-hee of the Korea Society Opinion Institute. “The increased attention on national security could drive younger voters away from polls while uniting the older, right-wing voters - the exact effect the ruling party is hoping for.”
*Lee is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors (and by Pyongyang, as well. It’s worth mentioning that North Korea supports a policy of peace and cooperation. South Korea, under its hawkish president, does not.)
BUCHEON, South Korea — The sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, apparently by a North Korean torpedo, has provoked an international crisis that has embroiled big powers like the United States and China. But here in South Korea, it has had another effect: buoying the country’s once embattled conservative, pro-American president, Lee Myung-bak.
Soon after taking office two years ago, Mr. Lee appeared at risk of losing public support, as he faced mass demonstrations on the streets of Seoul against the import of United States beef. Now, political experts are talking of the “Cheonan effect,” as polls show more than half of voters approve of the president and his tougher line toward the North.
"Russian experts who carried out a probe into the South Korean warship sinking refused to put the blame on North Korea, military sources said on Tuesday.
A team of four submarine and torpedo experts from the Russian Navy returned to Moscow on Monday after making an independent assessment of the March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed.
A Russian Navy source said the experts had not found convincing evidence of North Korea's involvement.
“After examining the available evidence and the ship wreckage Russian experts came to the conclusion that a number of arguments produced by the international investigation in favour of the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] involvement in the corvette sinking were not weighty enough,” a Russian Navy source told the Interfax-AVN news wire on Tuesday on condition of anonymity. Russia's Armed Forces Chief of Staff Nikolai Makarov said only that the Russian Foreign Ministry would make an official statement on the issue after the experts prepared their report.
“It is too early to make a definitive conclusion on the causes of the tragedy,” he was quoted as saying on Tuesday. "