*** This is a guest post by Kim Dong Yon, a Journalist and North Korea Analyst. You can see more of his work on his website.***
ICN is the commonly known aviation abbreviation of the Incheon International Airport. Almost all people who are visiting S.Korea will come through this Incheon Airport. 80% of the entire international traffics are coming through Incheon Airport and it is the biggest airport in S.Korea.
Recently, Incheon Airport extended its terminal that now they even have the 2nd terminal to digest high international traffics to Seoul. According to IIAC (Incheon International Airport Corporation), Incheon Airport has been the Asian hub which is responsible for 1,300,000 tonnages of cargo, and 28,000,000 airliners, more than 7 million transfer passengers went through Incheon in 2017.
According to ACI (Airports Council International), Incheon provided the best airport service that Incheon has awarded as the number 1 ASQ (Airport Service Quality) since 2005 more than 10 years. Also, Incheon Airport is the 4th largest cargo traffic in the world, more than Dubai(5th), Tokyo(8th), Paris(9th), London(19th), and LA(14th) in 2016 annual report.
Despite all these numbers, Incheon maybe not the safest airport anymore because of the last, 3rd Inter-Korean Summit. During the summit two Korea come up to a conclusion of the Military Agreement which includes ease of all military at the borderline where divide the two Korea in Land, Sea, and Air. Especially, both Korea agree and allow N.Korea’s to come to the southern part of the West sea’s island, Deok Jeok Do (덕적도).
Following is the direct quote of ease of military between two Korea and let N.Korea ships to come down to Deok Jeok Do from the Inter-Korean Military Agreement.
“해상에서는 서해 남측 덕적도 이북으로부터 북측 초도 이남까지의 수역, 동해 남측 속초 이북으로부터 북측 통천 이남까지의 수역에서 포사격 및 해상 기동훈련을 중지하고 해안포와 함포의 포구 포신 덮개 설치 및 포문폐쇄 조치를 취하기로 하였다.”
Translation: “In the sea, from the N.Korea, Southern part of Deok Jeok Do (Island) in the West Sea, also from the S.Korea, Northern part of Cho Do (Island) in the West sea, also, from the N.Korea, Southern part of Sokcho in the East Sea, also from the S.Korea , Northern part of TongChon in the East sea are both Korea agreed to stop all artillery and naval maneuver exercises. Also, the establishment of coastal artillery and covers for the artillery are canceled.”
“쌍방은 서해 해상에서 평화수역과 시범적 공동어로구역을 설정하기로 하였다.”
Translation: “Both sides agreed to establish the zone of Peace waters and fishery waters in the West Sea.”
Based on the last sentence, N.Korea can send their fisher boats to the south. The picture below is the photo of N.Korea’s Intelligence Ship also known as the spy ship. N.Korea has a long history of sending such ships to S.Korea and Japan. Many of these spy ships are camouflaged as the fishing boats.
Plus there are no details in the Military Agreement about the security inspection for the suspicious N.Korea ships to South. In any case, S.Korea and its allies: the US, Japan should be allowed to inspect the N.Korean ships to South for the ship to ship transfer of WMD, illicit drugs, and nuclear substance. Since there are no details of inspections, now N.Korea have a free channel to do their illegal activities.
Last May 3rd about a week after the 1st Inter-Korean Summit, S.Korea’s oil tanker, Jey hope was side by side with the N.Korean oil tanker, Namsan 8, this was discovered by the Japan Self-Defense Force’s Hamana Combat Support ship. This was possible ship to ship transfer of oil transfer to N.Korea. Also, it was the first time that S.Korea flagged ship accused of suspicious activity. The S.Korean government has not yet to confirm nor comment any detail about this matter. If this is the ship to ship transfer, it is the violation of UNSCR. Last July, S.Korea’s biggest energy company bought tons of coals from N.Korea that it has been accused of buying illegal substance from N.Korea and the violation of UNSCR. Many of opposition party members questioned the cause but Moon administration have not yet to show its reasons.
Details of these activities are in these links.
This Island, Deok Jeok Do is not well known even among S.Korean but many who checked its location, stunned by its geographical position because it is too close to significant S.Korea’s major infrastructures: ROK Forces bases, USFK bases, Airports, and Major cities. Deok Jeok Do is very close to Incheon Airport and its latitude is even lower than the major cities: Incheon and Seoul. It is even close to the major USFK bases at Pyeongtaek and Osan Air Force Base. Osan AFB is known for the hub of the US Presidential and high official visits and major US strategic assets: F-22, B-2, and U-2. After this agreement, Incheon Airport will be surrounded by N.Korean vessels and let them do their works.
In 2010, N.Korea without any sign launched Mortar shells to the island, YP-Do (Yeon Pyeong Do) bombarded many innocent civilians. YP-Do is located in the West sea near N.Korea’s borderline. In the same year, another tragic incident happened in the West Sea, N.Korea suddenly attacked S.Korea Naval ship, Cheonan with the torpedo and killed 46 S.Korean Navy sailors. Both are the symbolic incidents which highlight the military tension of the West sea in S.Korea.
There have been countless military provocations from North happened in the West Sea of S.Korea. Therefore S.Korea deployed highly skilled S.Korean Marines to protect the West Sea regions and assured its safety but now S.Korea gradually withdraw these forces because of the peace talks.
Since 2014 to early 2018, N.Korea upgraded their hovercraft base in the West Sea. This new construction and upgrades have finished a few months ago. These hovercrafts are designed to carry a minimum of 200 to 300 N.Korean Special Forces (SOF) and sent down to the nearest islands in S.Korea. These N.Korean Special Forces have trained to seize S.Korean islands and cities which N.Korea even broadcast their training through KCNA multiple times in 2017.
Kim Jong-un even visited SOF base and praised about their military readiness for seizing of islands. These hovercrafts’ max speed is 80km/h which capable to reach S.Korea within 30 minutes. One of the reasons why N.Korea settled down the hovercraft base is because of a geographical condition of the West Sea. West Sea is not deep that some areas are often covered with mud flats so it is not an ideal geospatial area for the big naval ships to maneuver and deliver its missions.
The dangers of this hovercraft base have been notified and sensed by the US-led think tanks too. CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies) and 38 North warned about its capability due to its close distance to the South. Plus, S.Korea has no optimum weapon systems to neutralize these strategic assets of the North. S.Korean DOD has assigned KA-1 propeller jets, and Apache helicopters to these deadly threats but experts in S.Korea doubt about their countermeasures and capabilities. One reason is that KA-1 base has moved from Seoul to Wonju which is farther down the South that KA-1s will take at least 20 more minutes to reach the West Sea. Also, Apaches are multi-purpose helicopters that they already have assigned an abundant amount of missions for the Army.
Based on this, USFK and Washington should aware of the seriousness of the Inter-Korean Military Agreement. Both Koreas already began their neutralizing the ground borderline around the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) by getting rid of ground mines. This operation started 1st of October and will continue until they get rid of all mines in the area.
Inter-Korean Military Agreement is not a finished product that requires further negotiations, so many of sentences are not in the complete sense rather promoting peace through negotiations. Therefore its vagueness of sentences become a good excuse for N.Korea to violate which we the world have eye-witnessed multiple times in the past. Despite its vagueness, Moon administration is implementing all the clauses in the agreement in a very fast manner.
If we review the timeline of past Inter-Korean Summit, we can see how eagerly President Moon is implementing them. Two Korean leaders met in Pyongyang and signed the agreement in 19th of September and he visited New York for the UN and met with the President, Trump. He returned to Seoul in 27th of September. Right after this, the process of neutralization of military forces in both Koreas started in 1st of October.
There is no room nor time for the US to interfere nor suggest any international and national security matters. Two Koreas’ military matters are not only solely for the Koreans but also for the US matters because of their presence in S.Korea. If S.Korea decide to disarm themselves without conditions nor assurance from the enemy, N.Korea, this will sooner or later impact the USFK. Now the entire burden of protecting S.Korea including Incheon Airport is in the hands of USFK’s security responsibility.
See more on Kim Dong Yon’s website.