Flashpoints | Security | East Asia

South Korea Commemorates 10 Years Since Sinking of Cheonan

2010 marked one of the most dangerous years on the Korean Peninsula in recent history.

Ankit Panda
South Korea Commemorates 10 Years Since Sinking of Cheonan
Credit: U.S. Army Garrison Casey

On Thursday, the South Korean government marked the 10-year anniversary of the sinking of ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel that was hit by a North Korean torpedo in 2010.

In commemorating the event, which marks one of the highest points of inter-Korean tension in the 21st century, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo presided over a memorial ceremony, with families of sailors deceased in the attack present.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean government is considering reusing the name Cheonan for one of its new frigates. Jeong, speaking on Thursday, said that he “looks forward to the day that Cheonan resurrects with a new look.”

“Only strong national security through ‘strong power’ can guarantee peace and prosperity,” the minister said. “The best way to repay the honorable sacrifice and devotion of the Cheonan soldiers… is with the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.”

“Our military will not forget the Cheonan warriors’ noble sacrifices for our country and people,” Choi Hyun-soo, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, added.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The memorial ceremony was held with limited attendance due to ongoing restrictions on large gatherings in South Korea amid the coronavirus disease pandemic.

On March 26, 2010, 46 South Korean sailors were killed when a torpedo, fired by a North Korean midget submarine, caused the vessel to split in half. Another 56 sailors on board the ship were wounded.

The incident marked the start of one of the most turbulent years between the two Koreas in recent history. In November 2010, seven months after the Cheonan’s sinking, North Korean artillery units shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong-do, killing multiple civilians.

North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking of ROKS Cheonan, despite South Korea’s official investigation into the vessel’s sinking attributing the act to one of Pyongyang’s submarines.

The sinking of the Cheonan is thought by some to have been masterminded by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s overseas intelligence agency, possibly with the involvement of Kim Jong Un, the current leader of North Korea who was then his father Kim Jong Il’s designated successor.

During inter-Korean diplomacy in 2018, Kim Yong Chol, a former head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, joked with South Korean interlocutors over the incident, introducing himself at one point by saying “I’m the man you blame for sinking the Cheonan.

In addition to marking the 10th year of the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong-do incidents, 2020 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950.