South Koreans want hard measures against North, but not military action
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — In a tense week of South Korean responses to the March 26 sinking of one of its warships, the government has halted nearly all trade with North Korea, begun naval maneuvers, and is aiming cross-border propaganda broadcasts into the North.
Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean diplomats continue to press China to support U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North.
But what do ordinary South Koreans want?
A rigorous punishment short of war, was the collective response of a number of people Stars and Stripes interviewed in the streets and shops of Pyeongtaek, a city in which two major U.S. military installations are located.
Military action would inflict real damage on the North but would also trigger a response that would do at least as much harm to the South, those interviewed said. But whatever actions are taken to punish the North, they said, they should be more severe than any of South Korea’s responses to earlier provocations.
Those interviewed said they and their friends and families are both far more angry and saddened by the sinking of the Cheonan and the deaths of 46 of the 104 sailors aboard than they’ve been over earlier incidents involving the North. Some said they also feel betrayed by the North after years of efforts by the South to improve relations.
An international team of investigators announced on May 20 that a midget North Korean submarine torpedoed the warship as it operated in the Yellow Sea near the maritime border between the two Koreas.
Pak Nam-shik, 70, a merchant, said the Cheonan incident was especially troubling because it happened without any saber rattling or other actions that might have put the South on its guard for such an incident.
“The North Koreans did this without any warning,” said Pak, who runs a doll shop. “This is far more serious than the incidents that we’ve had” in recent years.
He said he hoped the United States would use its influence to help bring the right kind of pressures on the North.
The sinking took a personal toll in the Songtan section of Pyeongtaek. One of the Cheonan sailors who died, Pak Bo-ram, was the son of a woman who until shortly after the sinking owned an oyster restaurant.
The new owner, Pak Sang-shim, 45, said the mother sold her the business because she was so grief stricken she could not longer run it.
“We need to take some kind of action” against the North, said Pak, “but not military action because we’ll all die together. Both countries will suffer terrible damage.”
Baek Nam-sook, 54, who owns a men’s clothing store, said the south should halt all economic aid to the North except that which benefits North Korean infants and children. A halt to nearly all trade was one of the retaliatory measures South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced Monday.
“Our young men died without any reason,” she said. “I feel deeply sorry for them. We’ve been doing a lot to help North Korea, but they’ve betrayed us. We can’t tolerate this any longer.”
Yang Sun-il, 48, a taxi driver, said his country and the international community should let the United Nations deal with the issue.
“We should follow international law,” he said.
Jang Soo-yon, 40, is a housewife whose father is from North Korea.
She said she wants a peaceful response to the incident, one that won’t harm ordinary North Koreans.
“Because the people responsible for this are the leaders of North Korea, not the ordinary people,” she said. “I’m really afraid of the effects of war.”