November 27, 2010
The United States and South Korea prepared for war games Sunday as South Koreans demanded vengeance over a deadly North Korean artillery bombardment that has raised fears of more clashes between the bitter rivals.
The North, meanwhile, worked to justify one of the worst attacks on South Korean territory since the 1950-53 Korean War. Four South Koreans, including two civilians, died after the North rained artillery on the small Yellow Sea island of Yeonpyeong, which is home to both fishing communities and military bases.
North Korea said civilians were used as a "human shield" around artillery positions and lashed out at what it called a "propaganda campaign" against Pyongyang.
It claimed the United States orchestrated last Tuesday's clash so that it could stage joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea with the South that include a U.S. nuclear powered supercarrier — enraging the North and making neighboring China uneasy.
China sent a senior official, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, to Seoul on Saturday for talks with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Dai, accompanied by chief Chinese nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei, discussed Tuesday's attack and international talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs, it said.
The North Korean attack on an area with a civilian population marked a new level of hostility along the rivals' disputed sea border. Only eight months ago, according to the findings of a South Korean-led international investigation, a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship in waters farther west, killing 46 sailors.
The aggression could be linked to the North's attempt to strengthen its government as it pursues a delicate transfer of power from leader Kim Jong Il to a young, unproven son. It also may reflect Pyongyang's frustration that it has been unable to force a resumption of stalled international talks on receiving aid in return for nuclear disarmament.
The attack laid bare weaknesses 60 years after the Korean War in South Korea's defenses against the North, which does not recognize the border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the conflict and which considers waters around Yeonpyeong as its territory.
The skirmish prompted President Lee Myung-bak to replace his defense minister on Friday.
At a funeral Saturday near Seoul, South Korea's marine commander, Maj. Gen. You Nak-jun, vowed a "thousand-fold" retaliation for the attack. Dignitaries and relatives laid white flowers at an altar for the two marines killed in the North's attack. The mother of one of the victims fell forward in her chair in grief.
Passers-by paused at Seoul's main train station to watch funeral footage on a big screen.
"Once the enemy attacks us, it is our duty to respond even more strongly," said student Jeon Hyun-soo, 19. "The South Korean people want this."Elsewhere in Seoul, about 70 former special forces troops protested what they called the government's weak response and scuffled with riot police in front of the Defense Ministry, pummeling the riot troops' helmets with wooden stakes and spraying fire extinguishers.
"Let's go!" the activists shouted, as police, numbering several hundred, pushed back with shields.
North Korea's state news agency said that although "it is very regrettable, if it is true, that civilian casualties occurred on Yeonpyeong island, its responsibility lies in enemies' inhumane action of creating a 'human shield' by deploying civilians around artillery positions."
The North said its enemies are "now working hard to dramatize 'civilian casualties' as part of its propaganda campaign."
South Korea was conducting artillery drills Tuesday from the island, located just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from North Korea's mainland, but fired away from the mainland.
The North said it warned South Korea to halt the drills on the morning of the attack, as part of "superhuman efforts to prevent the clash to the last moment."
The North said that Sunday's planned U.S.-South Korean war games showed that the United States was "the arch criminal who deliberately planned the incident and wire-pulled it behind the scene."
The war games starting Sunday and involving the USS George Washington supercarrier display resolve by Korean War allies Washington and Seoul to respond strongly to any future North Korean aggression. However, Washington has insisted the drills are routine and were planned well before last Tuesday's attack.
North Korea on Saturday warned of retaliatory attacks creating a "sea of fire" if its territory is violated.
President Lee told top officials "there is a possibility North Korea may take provocative actions during the (joint) exercise," and urged them to coordinate with U.S. forces to counter any such move, according to a spokesman in the president's office who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing official protocol.
Washington and Seoul have pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions. China is impoverished North Korea's biggest benefactor and its only major ally.
On Friday, the North conducted an apparent artillery drill within sight of Yeonpyeong island. The warning to Seoul and Washington came as the top U.S. commander in South Korea toured Yeonpyeong island to survey the wreckage from the rain of artillery three days earlier.
The North's artillery barrage Tuesday destroyed civilian homes as well as military bases on Yeonpyeong Island.
President Lee has ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.
Most of the islanders fled to the mainland after the barrage set off fierce blazes that destroyed many of their communities. It will take six months to two years for island communities to rebuild, disaster relief official Kim Sang-ryul said.
Soldiers assembled toilets Saturday for temporary shelters being built on the island by teams of relief workers.
Some South Koreans criticized the government for leaving Yeonpyeong inadequately protected.
"Military-wise, the emergency facilities should have been prepared for something like this, so I think the South Korean military must reinforce them," said Kim Min-yang, a 27-year-old company employee. "I also think we need more dialogue with North Korea."
November 26, 2010
China has warned the United States against engaging in military activity on its coastline.
“We oppose any military act by any party conducted in China’s exclusive economic zone without approval,” China’s Foreign Ministry replied in response to a question about the inclusion of a U.S. Aircraft carrier strike group participating in the joint exercise.
The exclusive economic zone is a maritime zone up to 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast.
It was reported today that Obama would be speaking with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in coming days. China has refused to condemn North Korea’s attack.
The Chinese statement arrives ahead of U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, according to Reuters. Earlier in the week, the Pentagon sent the USS George Washington and four other Navy ships to the Yellow Sea after North Korea shelled South Korean soldiers and civilians in response to South Korean military exercises.
In a statement from the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, the military exercises are described as a measure to show the United States’ “commitment to regional stability through deterrence.” Joint military exercises with the South Koreans begin on Sunday. North Korea has promised “waves of retaliation” if provoked.
Asian experts and political commentators warn the provocative military exercises near the North Korean and Chinese borders may result in war on the Korean Peninsula. North and South Korea have engaged in heightened saber-rattling since the incident earlier in the week.
On Friday, North Korea engaged in artillery drills within sight of the island bombed last week. The attack killed two soldiers and two civilians. Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. commander in South Korea, was on the island touring the damage at the time.
“None of the latest rounds hit the South’s territory, and U.S. military officials said Sharp did not even hear the concussions, though residents on other parts of the island panicked and ran back to the air raid shelters where they huddled earlier in the week as white smoke rose from North Korean territory,” reports the Associated Press.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war,” a report issued by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. Pyongyang’s military “precisely aimed and hit the enemy artillery base” on the island as punishment for South Korean military drills, said a North Korean official, who also warned of a “shower of dreadful fire” in response to the joint U.S.-South Korean exercises. “Gone are the days when verbal warnings are served only.”
North Korea has the largest artillery force in the world. It maintains 80,000 special forces and is believed to have some 13,000 artillery pieces deployed along the border.
In South Korea, the situation has resulted in political chaos.
Following the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak accepted the resignation of his defense minister and ordered more troops and advanced weaponry to the maritime border with North Korea.
“We should not ease our sense of crisis in preparation for the possibility of another provocation by North Korea,” spokesman Hong Sang-pyo said, quoting the South Korean president. “A provocation like this can recur any time.”Myung-bak appointed his security adviser Lee Hee-Won as his new defense minister.
“The South Korean media is baying for blood (or at least air strikes), the South Korean defense minister has fallen on his sword, and extra troops have been posted on the outlying islands,” writes Peter Foster for the Telegraph.
“If the North Koreans continue to act in this provocative way, it’s fair to ask the question, where does that all end in terms of South Korea’s ability to simply continue to turn the other cheek,” said Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. “This question goes to the heart of the political and security order of the world, [and] it’s important, I believe, for China to step up to the plate,” said Rudd after talking to the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
“The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi today after talking with Clinton by phone.
Yang Jiechi also spoke with the South Korean foreign minister and the North Korean ambassador to China.