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2015-06-30 16:57
By Jun Ji-hye



Did South Korea win the second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle against the North?

The answer to the question varies depending on which government is responding.

The inter-Korean clash took place in the waters off the border island of Yeonpyeong in the West Sea on June 29, 2002 when the late liberal President Kim Dae-jung was in office. Ultimately, six South Korea sailors lost their lives in the battle and 19 more were wounded.

Experts believe that successive governments have used the inter-Korean battle for political gain, rather than presenting the facts.

Shin In-kyun, president of the Korea Defense Network, told reporters, “From a military perspective, the battle was successful as more North Korean sailors died, and the South consequently protected the Northern Limit Line. But from a political perspective, we lost as the ideological conflict over the battle continues.”

As soon as the clash occurred, then the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP), the forerunner to the Saenuri Party, criticized the Kim government severely, calling it a defeat and evidence that the “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation with the North had failed.

From the conservative party’s point of view, the clash was a weapon to downplay the liberal government’s inter-Korean policy.

Then GNP lawmaker Maeng Hyung-kyu said, “The South failed to sink the North Korean ship even though it suffered a preemptive attack. The cause of this complete defeat was Cheong Wa Dae and the military command that tied soldiers’ hands and feet (with their inter-Korean policy).”

This assessment of the battle changed after the GNP’s Lee Myung-bak assumed the presidency in 2008.

The Lee administration elevated the status of the battle, changing its name to the second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle from the West Sea Battle, putting it on the same category as the first Yeonpyeong Naval Battle when the South’s Navy sank an enemy ship and damaged five other patrol boats on June 15, 1999.

Efforts to elevate the battle have continued under the government of Park Geun-hye.

During Monday’s ceremony at the Navy’s 2nd Fleet headquarters marking the 13th anniversary of the battle, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said, “The second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle was the victorious battle in which our men fended off North Korea’s provocations.”

It was the first time for a defense chief to deliver a tribute speech for the sailors killed during the bloody skirmish.

The tragedy has drawn further attention after the release of the film “North Limit Line” which depicts the incident.

Over the weekend, the movie attracted over 1.6 million viewers after opening in theaters nationwide on June 24.

On Sunday, the number of screens showing the movie reached 1,013, according to the Korean Film Council. That number seems high, considering that audiences’ reviews have varied, and the movie is not backed by conglomerates such as CJ E&M or Lotte Entertainment.

This has brought questions about whether an “invisible hand” might have been supporting the movie in order for it to be screened on as many screens as possible.


Follow Jun Ji-hye on Twitter @TheKopJihye


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