by Yoichi Shimatsu
Former editor of the Japan Times, now an environmental
consultant and a commentator on Asian affairs for CCTV-9
(News Analysis Media)
South Korean Prime Minister Lee
Myung-bak has claimed "overwhelming evidence" that
a North Korean torpedo sank the corvette Cheonan on March
26, killing 46 sailors. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton claimed that there’s "overwhelming evidence" in
favor of the theory that North Korea sank the South
Korean Navy warship Cheonan. But the articles of proof
presented so far by military investigators to an official
inquiry board have been scanty and inconsistent.
There’s yet another possibility, that a U.S.
rising mine sank the Cheonan in a friendly-fire accident.
In the recent U.S.-China strategic talks in
Shanghai and Beijing, the Chinese side dismissed
the official scenario presented by the Americans and
their South Korean allies as not credible. This conclusion
was based on an independent technical assessment by the Chinese
military, according to a Beijing-based military affairs consultant
to the People Liberation Army.
Hardly any of the relevant facts that counter
the official verdict have made headline news in either South
Korea or its senior ally, the United States.
The first telltale sign of an official smokescreen
involves the location of the Choenan sinking - Byeongnyeong
Island (pronounced Pyongnang) in the Yellow Sea. On the westernmost
fringe of South Korean territory, the island is dominated
by a joint U.S.-Korean base for anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
operations. The sea channel between Byeongnyeong and the
North Korean coast is narrow enough for both sides to be
in artillery range of each other.
Anti-sub warfare is based on sonar and acoustic
detection of underwater craft. Since civilian traffic is
not routed through the channel, the noiseless conditions
are near-perfect for picking up the slightest agitation,
for example from a torpedo and any submarine that might fire
North Korea admits it does not possess an underwater
craft stealthy enough to slip past the advanced sonar and
audio arrays around Byeongnyeong Island, explained North
Korean intelligence analyst Kim Myong Chol in a news release. "The
sinking took place not in North Korean waters but well inside
tightly guarded South Korean waters, where a slow-moving
North Korean submarine would have great difficulty operating
covertly and safely, unless it was equipped with AIP (air-independent
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