A month later, at the same time the U.S. was exerting intense pressure on former Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama to accept an upgraded U.S. military base in Okinawa, Seoul changed its response, claiming the sinking was the result of a North Korean attack. Hatoyama, arguing that a new base was necessary to thwart a N. Korean attack on Japan, seized upon this as an excuse to renege on his campaign promise to Okinawans to cease building U.S. bases on their island.
The questionable timing of S. Korea's switch; evidentiary inconsistencies; prior staged military incidents in Asia (Gulf of Tonkin); and the general oddness of the situation resulted in widespread skepticism over Seoul's new official narrative. Japan Focus published Sakai Tanaka's "Who Sank the South Korean Warship Cheonan? A New Stage in the US-Korean War and US-China Relations" and Mark E. Caprio's "Plausible Denial? Reviewing the Evidence of DPRK Culpability for the Cheonan Warship Incident." A South Korean NGO, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, and Korean-American scholars, Lee Seung-Hun,a professor of physics at the University of Virginia and Suh Jae-Jung, an associate professor in international politics at Johns Hopkins University, publicly questioned the changed official response.
The Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War has issued a comprehensive report:
On July 9, 2010, the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement on the Naval Vessel Cheonan condemning the attack and "stressing the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in north-east Asia as a whole."
Acknowledging that "such an incident endangers peace and security in the region and beyond", the Council's statement "encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels as early as possible, with a view to avoiding conflicts and averting escalation."
South Korean and Asian NGOs have welcomed such statement, notably for it echoes their concerns, as expressed in earlier communications to the Council.
Following such civil society's submissions to the UN, Seoul has issued inflammatory comments and exerted political, legal and financial reprisals against local NGOs for questioning Seoul's official line that blames North Korea for the Cheonan Incident.
In light of the situation, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sent an open letter to the UN Secretary General denouncing the pressure brought to bear against dissenting voices.
The letter, dated June 25, commanded remarks made by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue who expressed concerns at Seoul's National Security Act and called for "a culture of tolerance" to replace current defamation laws. Further, the AHRC called for "the abolition of the National Security Act and the decriminalization of defamation in the Criminal Code, as such provisions clearly run contrary to international human rights law and standards. "
In addition, the AHRC urged the UN Secretary General "to take all necessary steps to ensure that the reprisals, either directly or indirectly attributable to the government of the Republic of Korea, are immediately halted against civil society groups that have communicated with the UN" and called on the UN Security Council to request that Seoul "provide full explanations to clarify the substantive questions posed by the NGOs concerning the sinking of the Cheonan."
While the UN Security Council's statement does not go as far as answering the questions left open (notably identifying who was behind the attack), it does condemn it and acknowledges the gravity of the situation created by the Cheonan Incident and its significant repercussions on the security of the Korean Peninsula and the whole region.
Indeed, according to Wooksik Cheong of Peace Network, "the Cheonan Incident has the danger to trigger a new Cold War in Northeast Asia" with Washington and Tokyo actively supporting Seoul, while Pyongyang's long term's allies Beijing and Moscow are distancing themselves from the results of the Republic of Korea's investigation and warning against pushing North Korea into a corner.
He suggests not only re-opening the investigation to clarify the cause of the sinking and responsibilities in the incident, but also immediately resuming the Six Party Talks. "The Cheonan sinking demonstrates the necessity of building a peace regime and resuming the Six Party Talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Now is the time to find the way to prevent a conflict on Korean peninsula and a new Cold War in Northeast Asia."
On 26 March 2010 an attack led to the sinking of a Republic of Korea naval ship, the Cheonan that resulted in the loss of 46 lives among the 104 personnel onboard. A joint civilian-military investigation conducted by the Republic of Korea with the participation of international experts from the US, UK, Australia and Sweden concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship. North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack and many observers from within the Republic of Korea and internationally have questioned the conclusions of the investigation.
Indeed, several voices have been challenging the official version of events. In addition to South Korean opposition politicians, former military officials and civil society groups, some US-based Korean-born scientists are now questioning the conclusions of the Cheonan report by the Joint Investigation Group (JIG).
In a press conference held in Tokyo on July 9, Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia Lee Seung-Hun and Associate Professor in International Politics at Johns Hopkins University Suh Jae-Jung described how they have carried out their own careful examination of the JIG's report and concluded its findings were contradictory, inconsistent and unsustainable, stating there is "a very high chance" that some of the findings had been fabricated.
Lee and Suh joined their voice to international calls for a new investigation that would be objective and thorough and that would " reiterat[e] its commitment to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."
Read the Asian Human Rights Commission's Open Letter to the UN Secretary General (June 25) here.
Find the full Investigation Result (June 4) on the Sinking of Republic of Korea Ship Cheonan here.
Read the UNSC Presidential Statement (July 9) on the Sinking of the ROK Naval Vessel Cheonan here.
Read PSPD's Stance on the UNSC Presidential Statement (July 15) here.
Read Wooksik Cheong's analysis, "The Cheonan Sinking and a New Cold War in Asia," here.
Read the summary of the press conference on the Cheonan Inconsistencies by Lee Seung-Hun and Suh Jae-Jung here.