South Korea is freezing government spending related to exchanges with North Korea. The move comes just days before the results of a multinational investigation into the sinking of a South Korean warship are made public. Many people expect South Korea to accuse North Korea of the sinking and Seoul is believed to be preparing an international response.
South Korean Unification ministry spokesman Chun Hae Sung said Monday the plans to halt spending on inter-Korean exchanges are government-wide.
He says the government has requested ten government ministries and related organizations to temporarily suspend spending on inter-Korean projects.
Chun cites a series of "serious recent inter-Korean situations" as a reason for the suspension. That is widely seen as an indirect reference to the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
South Korean officials have refrained from directly accusing North Korea of having a role in that sinking, but may end that restraint this week, depending on the results of an investigation which are to made public.
Forty six South Korean sailors were killed in March when an explosion ripped through their ship, the Cheonan. The ship was patrolling an area where North Korea has never accepted a United Nations imposed maritime border, and where the two Korea's had fought three previous skirmishes. South Korea says just this weekend, it fired warning shots at North Korean vessels that violated the sea border and then turned back.
Investigators are widely expected to conclude that a North Korean torpedo is the most likely cause of the Cheonan sinking.
Wendy Sherman, who was a senior coordinator of North Korea policy in President Bill Clinton's administration, says South Korea, the United States and other regional partners will need to respond to the Cheonan sinking in a balanced manner.
"If it is shown that North Korea is in culpable in any way, there will have to be serious and robust response, not only bilaterally but within international community," she said. "One that hopefully will not escalate the situation out of control, but will be appropriate to what has occurred here."
A South Korean military response is seen here as nearly impossible, because such a step could swiftly escalate into a devastating war. Instead, South Korea and its partners are considering measures to further isolate the North diplomatically and economically.