North and South Korea signed an agreement Saturday on a series of measures meant
to avoid clashes along their disputed maritime border.
It took military leaders from both countries three days to hammer out the
details of the agreement. Common radio frequencies were chosen for North and
South Korean naval vessels, and a date was set - August 12 - for a new hot
line between the naval commands to go into operation.
North and South Korean military officials first met in early June and agreed
in principal on the measures. This week, they began to finalize the details.
The two countries are trying to avoid unintended clashes along their sea
border. North Korea has never recognized an official maritime border off its
western coast, and North Korean fishing and naval ships frequently cross into
Lee Jung-hoon, a political scientist at Yonsei University in South Korea,
says the pact comes just as the start of the annual crab-catching season increases
the chances of conflicts at sea.
"There have been several clashes in that area, the most recent one led to
the deaths of five south Korean naval officers, so it is important that the
two sides come to some sort of agreement so that future naval clashes can be
avoided," he said.
Military and civilian officials from two Koreas have held a series of meetings
in the past few weeks to ease tensions along their border and strengthen bilateral
relations. They have agreed to open cross-border transportation routes, remove
propaganda signs and end propaganda broadcasts along their shared border, and
exchange data on illegal fishing. South Korea also agreed to donate 400,000
pounds of rice to ease malnutrition in the communist North.
Professor Lee says the latest agreement is a positive step towards building
trust between the two countries, although he warns that it does little to improve
South Korea's security.
"I think the crux of the question is, is [the] North Korean military threat
minimized at all over the past several years? Militarily and in terms of military
posture, it's not changed at all," said Lee Jung-hoon.
South Korea's engagement with the North coincides with announced changes
in the United State's military presence in the South. Washington said last
week that it would withdraw about one-third of its 37,000 troops from South
Korea, and pull the rest south, away from the border.
In response to the U.S. plans, the South Korean defense minister on Friday
requested a 13 percent boost in defense spending for next year.
North and South Korea are still technically at war, as no peace treaty was
signed at the end of the Korean War in 1953.