Who sank the “Cheonan”?

This weekend, we visited our Chinese ‘family’ and together we went round to see other Chinese friends including one who has a PhD on China’s role in the United Nations Security Council. As well as deep friendship, I always enjoy seeing our Chinese friends because it gives me an insight into a very different culture and a very different way of looking at the world.

This time, I raised the issue of why China is being so supportive of North Korea in spite of provocations like the sinking of the South Korean ship the “Cheonan” with the loss of 46 lives. To my surprise, my Chinese friends were not convinced that the North Koreans were responsible for the sinking.

The Wikipedia essay on the incident notes:

“On May 20, the investigation team (South Korea, U.S., U.K., Sweden, Australia and Canada) released their report in which they concluded that the sinking of the warship was in fact the result of a North Korean torpedo attack, commenting that “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine.” The inquiry also found that a group of small submarines, escorted by a support ship, departed from a North Korean naval base a few days before the sinking. The specific weapon used was a North Korean manufactured CHT-02D torpedo, of which substantial parts were recovered.

According to the same essay, the Chinese view is as follows:

“During talks between the American and Chinese governments in late May of 2010, Chinese officials claimed that the sinking of the Cheonan had been as a result of an American rising mine, which is moored to the seabed and propels itself into a ship detected by sound or magnetics, planted during anti-submarine exercises that were conducted by the South Korean and US navies shortly before the sinking. To back up their claims, the Chinese said that North Korean submarines such as the one believed to have sank the Cheonan were incapable of moving undetected within South Korean waters, and a rising mine would have damaged the ship by splitting the hull, as was done to the Cheonan, rather than simply holing the vessel as a conventional torpedo does.

This discussion with my Chinese friends was yet another reminder that, however obvious or self-evident a point of view may seem, however strong the evidence may appear, others can – and frequently do – hold totally different positions on the same issue. In everything from international relations to personal relationships, one has to appreciate that others can sincerely hold very different views and one has to understand why this might be the case and what thinking – and even evidence – might explain that view.

In the end though, truth does matter as I have argued in my web site essay “The Reason For Truth”. In the particular case of the sinking of the “Cheonan”, truth matters because there are several routes from this incident to a more serious conflict or even a war as set out in this piece from the “New York Times”.


  • A view from Asia

    Sinking of South Korean ship is really a sad incident if it is natural and a heinous act if it is an attack from any side. Killing of people should be condemned and should be prevented. But this is in fact a utopian wish which has no meaning in the world of realism, where personal interests reign supreme.

    Korea peninsula has a great strategic importance in the sense that it lies between great powers in the region (Russia, Japan and China) where USA has physical presence. China is a strong ally and Russia also, to some extent of North Korea. USA and Japan have become the defenders of South Korea. These major powers have playing/playing very negative role in deteriorating relations between the North and South. I think the principle of “divide and rule” has changed to ‘divide and use” in the 21 century.

    The major powers are playing their cards well to keep the Korea divided and hence to use its divided parts for defense of their personal interests. But they do not think that hostilely and war between the two countries will be major blow to the world peace.

    The question is who sink the South Korean ship?

    Despite the continuous denial of allegations by North Korea, I personally think that “Cheonan” has been attacked by North Korea. The reason might be that North Korea wished to stop the six-party talks. It is a practice of North Korea that it starts negotiations on nuclear program, then stops and again restarts. May be she is doing this to get time for its nuclear program.

    We can not deny the roll of a third party in this accident as some one in the region or outside the region may be wished to keep the hostility hot and prevent both countries from developing good relations.

    And the next question is why china is not condemning North Korea. The reason is simple, because, China does not want to lose her ally in the peninsula.

    A Freedom Flotilla with peace activists carrying aid to Palestinians attacked by Israel. It was an attack on civilian and peace activities that had no arms and weapon. The super power of world whose constitution believes on equality and justice and which also claims for it, is calm on it and back up and trying to protect Israel in Security Council. On the other hand “Cheonan” a South Korean naval ship allegedly attacked by North Korea. USA is more active and aggressive in this case.

    Dear Sir, why this double standard in this world?

    The answer is simple. Realism.

  • A view from China

    As for the relationship between China and North Korea, I think it is more than just the relationship between China and North Korea, it is ultimately the conflict between China and America.

    As South Korea is an ally of the US, China wants to have North Korea as its ally and thus keeping itself a distance from “US territory” but at the same time, China does not want North Korea to become too strong militarily so that China no longer has the control of it.

    This is why China was not supporting the North Korea in the issue of its nuclear development. China knows that the North Korea is quite unhappy about that, so China supported them in the Cheonan incident. In short, China’s relationship with North Korea is similar to America’s relationship with South Korea, and China wants to ensure its development by balancing its relationship with North Korea and America. China wants to have North Korea as its puppet and as a tool to challenge or compromise to the US.


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