Wandering China

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War games start, China proposes meeting [Straits Times]


War games start, China proposes meeting
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, XINHUA
Source – Straits Times, published November 29, 2010

YEONPYEONG ISLAND (SOUTH KOREA): China tried yesterday to defuse tension over a recent North Korean attack on South Korea by proposing an emergency meeting in Beijing, just hours after the United States and South Korea launched naval war games in a united show of force.

Beijing’s top nuclear envoy called for the meeting among the six nations involved in the stalled North Korean nuclear disarmament talks to calm tempers over the North’s artillery barrage last Tuesday that killed four people on the South’s Yeonpyeong Island.

Nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said in a statement issued in Beijing that the international community, particularly members of the six-party talks – the two Koreas, Japan, the US, China and Russia – were deeply concerned about recent developments. He called for an emergency meeting of chief nuclear negotiators in China early next month.

However, it was unclear whether the proposal would be accepted. South Korea responded cautiously, with its Foreign Ministry saying that the proposal should be ‘reviewed very carefully’.

It noted that North Korea’s recent revelation of a new uranium-enrichment facility has a ‘negative effect’ on efforts to resume the talks. The facility is seen as signalling an expansion of the North’s nuclear weapons programme

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s ruling party also said that now was not the time to consider six-party talks.

Both Seoul and Washington have resisted restarting the disarmament-for-aid talks until Pyongyang shows a concrete commitment to denuclearisation.

Yesterday, US and South Korean naval ships – including the nuclear-powered USS George Washington – took up positions in the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast for the four-day exercise.

Commander Jeff Davis, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, said no live-fire drills were planned, though other reports said live firing would take place – which could ramp up tension further.

North Korea expressed outrage over the drills and threatened ‘merciless counter-military strikes’. Yonhap news agency reported that the North has begun placing surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea.

Yesterday also saw a burst of new artillery fire from North Korea, which sent residents, journalists, police and troops on Yeonpyeong Island scrambling for cover. None of the rounds landed on the island, military officials said, but the incident prompted South Korea’s Defence Ministry to start evacuating the remaining islanders and journalists.

The troubled relations between the two Koreas, which fought a three-year war in the 1950s, have steadily deteriorated in recent months.

Eight months after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, North Korean troops showered artillery on Yeonpyeong, a South Korean-held island that houses military bases as well as a civilian population of 1,300, in an attack last Tuesday that marked a new level of hostility.

The North blamed the South for provoking the attack by holding artillery drills near a maritime border, and has steadily threatened to be ‘merciless’ if the ongoing war games get too close to its territory.

Washington, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect its ally, continued to insist that the drills were routine and were planned well before last Tuesday’s attack.

China has also criticised the drills, but at the same time has begun launching its own diplomatic bid to calm tensions.

Washington and Seoul have been pressing Beijing, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, to help defuse the situation amid fears of all-out war. China was slow at first to react, but has quickened its diplomatic intervention in recent days.

Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo made a last-minute visit to Seoul to confer with South Korean President Lee, who pressured him to contribute to peace in a ‘more objective, responsible’ manner. Mr Lee warned that Seoul would respond ‘strongly’ to any further provocation, his office said in a statement.

The strong words were his first public comment in days. He is due to address the nation today amid calls from his people to take tougher action against the defiant North.

The chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly will also visit China from tomorrow.

North Korea walked away from the disarmament-for-aid talks in April last year following international condemnation for launching a rocket seen as a test of its long-range missile technology.

Pyongyang, with Beijing’s backing, has shown an eagerness to get back to the talks, and has appeared increasingly frustrated by US and South Korean reluctance to restart the negotiations to provide the North with much-needed aid in exchange for disarmament.

ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, XINHUA

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, International Relations, military, North Korea, Politics, South Korea, Straits Times

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