‘Joint fishing zone’ skirts limit-line issue

Joong Ang Daily
Ser Myo-ja and Chung Ki-hwan
The Northern Limit Line remains in place, but vessels from both North and South Korea will be allowed to cross the “special peace and cooperation zone” in the Yellow Sea, according to yesterday’s agreement.

The deal for a joint fishing zone along the maritime border between the two Koreas angered South Korean fisherman and conservatives.

“We oppose the plan,” said Kim Jae-sik, a 46-year-old fisherman representing Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea near the border. “We will lose our fishing sources when large ships from the two Koreas flock to the area.”

The joint fishing zone is intended to avoid accidental military clashes, the two leaders said. The top defense officials from the two countries will meet in Pyongyang next month to discuss military measures, including safety guarantees inside the zone.

The inter-Korean deal also agreed to open a direct maritime route in the Yellow Sea to allow travel by Korean civilian vessels. The North’s Haeju Harbor will open for that purpose. The deal did not mention the limit line.

South Korean conservatives said they are concerned that the South has yielded to the North’s longtime challenge to the de facto maritime border.

Grand National Party Chairman Kang Jae-sup said, “I am concerned that the plan for establishing a joint fishing zone and the peace waters is a shortcut to incapacitating the Northern Limit Line.”

The Korea Veterans Association also issued a statement in opposition. “The North has initiated two sea battles so far to disable the line,” the association said. “Without a national consensus, no agreement should be made at the defense ministers’ talks next month regarding NLL.”

North Korea has never agreed to the limit line, which was established by a a United Nations commander in 1953. In 1999, the two Koreas’ navies clashed in a battle after the North crossed the line. Another sea skirmish took place in 2002 with the loss of six South Korean soldiers.

Experts also expressed concern that the military border was pushed aside in the name of economic cooperation. “Building the peace zone in the Yellow Sea and allowing the North’s civilian vessels to directly travel in the western waters on the Haeju route have provided an opening for the North to nullify the Northern Limit Line,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korean studies professor at Korea University.

Ahn Byung-min, a North Korea expert at the Korea Transport Institute, pointed to the economic gains for the direct sea route. “Inter-Korean maritime shipments have had to detour until now, but the direct route will save a lot of time and logistics costs,” Ahn said. “In terms of the economy, it is a very constructive agreement.”

Fishermen at the northern-most Baeknyong Island worried their movements will still be restricted while North Koreans freely come down to catch fish. “Since the 1970s, the North Koreans frequently violated the border and operated in the southern area,” said Choi Jong-nam, a Baeknyong fisherman. “What if things do not change for us?”


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