Summit transcript: Roh Moo-hyun’s idea was a peace zone, not abandonment

Posted on : 2013-06-25 14:56 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Despite conservative smear campaign, what Roh actually suggested was a cooperative fishing and navigation zone
Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands in Pyongyang at the inter-Korean summit on Oct. 3
Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands in Pyongyang at the inter-Korean summit on Oct. 3

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

The eight pages of excerpts from the transcript of the inter-Korean summit that took place in Oct. 2007, which the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) released to the press on June 24, contain a detailed description of the process through which former president Roh Moo-hyun worked to persuade then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and resolve the issue of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea. The excerpts confirm that Roh had not abandoned the NLL as the conservative establishment is contending. Rather, they show that he was trying to resolve the ultimate reason for the NLL’s existence - that is, the confrontation between North and South - by building trust as North and South made peaceful use of the West Sea.


According to the transcript excerpts, the first person to mention the NLL (and other disputes between North and South pertaining to the West Sea) was Kim Jong-il. On page 18, Kim suggests that the maritime area located between the South Korean Northern Limit Line and the North Korean Military Demarcation Line be declared as a peace zone. This suggests that Pyongyang also considered it an important security objective to stabilize the West Sea area from Yeonpyeong Island to Baeknyeong Island - the site of a series of accidental military clashes between North and South Korean forces. In response to this, Roh said, “Yes, I’m very interested in that as well,” sparking a spirited discussion between the two leaders.

Following this, on pages 40 and 41, Roh was recorded as saying, “The NLL has no grounds in international law, and its logical basis is not clear either, but at present it has a considerable influence on the situation.” These remarks refer to the historical fact that the NLL was not a maritime demarcation line agreed upon through the armistice, but rather was unilaterally announced by the UN military command in August 1953. Next, Roh acknowledged the maritime dispute surrounding the NLL. “The NLL is probably is a point of pride for people in the North, while there are people in the South who regard it as South Korean,” Roh said.

“So the plan that you are outlining now would be for both sides to remove their military forces from the region and to use it as a joint fishing zone. I am of the same opinion as you regarding the peace zone,” Roh said, expressing agreement with Kim.

However, he also had his own plan. “The problem is that, when anyone even mentions the word ‘NLL,’ people start getting all stirred up like a beehive. This issue is something that would be good for us to discuss at greater length,” said Roh.

Roh continued: “Consider this: we make a peace zone in the West Sea and turn it into a joint fishing zone. We jointly develop the estuary of the Han River, and continue by combining the entire Incheon and Haeju regions into a joint economic zone and allow ships to move freely in those waters. In that case, we would have to redraw the map to allow that movement,” he said. Elaborating this point, Roh said that this would be a free navigation zone and a joint fishing area, and that consequently the military would not be allowed to enter that area.

Essentially Roh was proposing to erode the South’s insistence on the NLL along with the North’s insistence on the Military Demarcation Line through the idea of creating a single peace zone managed by police from both North and South. Thus, instead of suffering a backlash in public opinion by taking a definite stance on the NLL, which many people view as a conflict, his plan was to resolve the problem in a more vague and indirect fashion.

Kim’s reaction to this proposal is not included in the excerpts that were released. Former NIS director Kim Man-bok claimed that Kim had agreed with the plan in the Feb. 2011 issue of Japanese monthly magazine Sekai. “I discussed the issue with the senior generals on the National Defense Commission,” Kim Jong-il told Roh when they met again after lunch, according to Kim Man-bok. “When I asked them whether an industrial complex in Haeju would be possible, they said there would be no problem with that,” Kim said. “Haeju is fine. We can use Gangryong from Haeju to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and we can also open up Haeju’s port for use.”

After securing Kim’s approval and returning home, Roh announced the plan to create a special zone for peace and cooperation in the West Sea, which would include the waters in the West Sea and the area around Haeju. This is to say that Roh had not abandoned the NLL, but had rather tried to resolve the issue of the NLL through helping both North and South recognize the greater value of peaceful cooperation.


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