North Korea has announced that it is to repatriate the “Daeseung 55”, a South Korean fishing boat which was seized in the East Sea on August 8th, and its crew, a move which has triggered further speculation that North Korea is on a peace offensive in an attempt to change its diplomatic and economic surroundings.
Chosun Central News Agency, releasing the news, called it “a decision made based on fraternal love and from a humanitarian perspective.”
On the details of the seizure, it stated, “The Daeseung violated North Korea’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea and conducted illegal fishing activities, and eventually was captured by the Navy of the Chosun People’s Army. This activity was an intolerable invasion of our sovereignty.”
In other words, North Korea is attempting to emphasize its humanitarian attitude in releasing the vessel despite its supposedly “intolerable” attack on North Korea’s sovereignty.
In order to create a point of leverage in inter-Korean relations, however, it may be that North Korea pre-planned the seizure of a South Korean vessel, and then intended to return it at an opportune moment with an emphasis on the humanitarian perspective, which it has now done.
Considering the fact that the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been in detention for seven months in the North, and the return of the Daeseung and its crew have now both occurred around talks between North Korea and China, some interpret it as a suggestion as the result of a peace offensive between North Korea and China to change the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Choi Jin Wook, Chief Researcher at the Center for South-North Korean Cooperation Studies at the Korea Institute for National Unification, evaluated the situation during an interview with The Daily NK today, saying, “It is to actually display measures aimed at peace on the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea promised China at the North Korea-China talks.”
Choi further added, “The release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes and return of the Daeseung and its crew being conducted around the talks are movements to emphasize the fact that China has influence over North Korea, which is a measure to save Chinese face.”
In the situation where they are facing the task of stabilizing the system and establishing the successor, North Korea absolutely needs to escape from its international isolation. Therefore, North Korea has answered China, which wants stability on the Korean Peninsula, while obtaining promises of the political and economic assistance required to stabilize the system from China.
Another anonymous expert commented also, “North Korea’s decision to return the Daeseung seems to be related to the South Korean government’s announcement of 10 billion won of flood aid and growing public opinion in favor of rice support for North Korea.”
“Also, the fact that voices calling for stable management of North Korea in the period before the G-20 in Seoul scheduled for November 11th~12th are getting louder appears to be related as well.”