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North Korea threatens nuclear ‘holy war’ with the South

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2010

http://www.headlinenewsbureau.com/siterun_data/news/world/doc210846daf07da4d680356a2bc5db1771.html

North says live-fire exercises are raising tensions • Seoul promises ‘merciless counterattack’ if provoked

Tensions on the Korean pensinsula were at their most dangerous level since the 1950-53 war today when North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons in a “holy war” against its neighbour after South Korean tanks, jets and artillery carried out one of the largest live-fire drills in history close to the border.

The military exercise at Pocheon, just south of the demilitarized zone, was the third such show of force this week by South Korea. Multiple rocket-launchers, dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops joined the drills, which the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, insisted was necessary for self-defence, following two deadly attacks this year. Last month, two civilians and two marines were killed by a North Korean barrage on Yeonpyeong island following a live-fire drill in disputed territory. In March, 46 sailors died when the South Korean naval ship, Cheonan, was sunk, apparently by an enemy torpedo.

“We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case,” Lee told troops today. He earlier warned that he was ready to order a “merciless counterattack” if further provoked.

North Korea’s armed forces minister, Kim Yong-chun, also lifted the pitch of the sabre-rattling. “To counter the enemy’s intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency quoted him telling a rally in Pyongyang.

Bellicosity and brinkmanship are nothing new on the divided peninsula and there are doubts that North Korea is capable of an accurate nuclear strike, though it has conducted two bomb tests and is believed to have enough high-grade plutonium for at least six warheads.

But even with conventional artillery, the two neighbours are capable of inflicting horrendous casualties among their densely packed populations.

The political situation is less predictable than usual due to the ongoing transition of power in Pyongyang from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un. There has also been a hardening of positions in Seoul, where president Lee is belatedly trying to demonstrate his toughness. After being criticised for his restrained response to the two earlier incidents, Lee has fired his top military advisers and replaced them with hardliners, who favour an escalated display of self-defence.

Efforts to defuse the crisis have not been helped by divisions among the other major players in the region.

Russia has proposed sending a special United Nations envoy to the region and China has called for restraint and expressed support for a fresh round of six-party denuclearisation talks. But Japan and the United States have backed the robust stance taken by Seoul, saying North Korea has not yet done enough to deserve new negotiations. Last weekend, the American ambassador to the United Nations proposed a security council statement condemning Pyongyang, but it was blocked by China.

The topic looks certain to be high on the agenda at a summit between US president Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Washington on 19 January. According to Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Obama called Hu earlier this month to say that if the government in Beijing did not restrain its old ally then the US would take action. Many analysts believe this is why North Korea has since refrained from further military steps.

China is the main supplier of food and fuel to its isolated and impoverished neighbour, but the extent of its influence over Pyongyang remains unclear. Policymakers in Beijing are divided. US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show that senior Chinese foreign ministry officials have privately expressed considerable frustration with Pyongyang’s behaviour . But the Chinese Communist party‘s nationalist newspaper, Global Times, has accused South Korea of provocation.

“Many believe that if they try to be nice, Pyongyang will never stop; and if they play tough, the other side will back off. But the two Koreas are not street hoodlums, nor bullies in the schoolyard,” it noted in a recent editorial. The priority, it added, was to avoid regional instability and economic development. “It is unacceptable for regional interests that any side threatens the other with war, whatever the purpose may be.”

Hopes for an easing of tensions rose briefly earlier this week, when an unofficial US envoy returned from Pyongyang, where he said he noted a change of attitude. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson – a veteran intermediary – praised North Korea for stepping back from the brink and for promising to readmit international nuclear inspectors as well as sell Seoul thousands of used-nuclear fuel rods that could otherwise be used to make weapons.

However, he warned today that if military exercises continue near the border, the restraint may not last.

“The situation is still a tinderbox. There’s still enormous tension, enormous mistrust and I believe diplomacy is what is needed to get us out of this tinderbox,” Richardson said in an interview with the Associated Press. He described the tensions as “the worst I have ever seen on the peninsula”.

Korea’s year of living dangerously 27 March Forty-six sailors die in sinking of the Chenoan, a South Korean warship . North denies responsibility.

20 May South-led investigation concludes the Cheonan was sunk by North’s torpedo.

27 May North scraps pact aimed at preventing border skirmishes.

16 June Barack Obama renews sanctions against North over its nuclear programme.

29 October North’s troops open fire on South’s border post.

22 November US scientists are shocked to be shown uranium enrichment facility in the North.

23 November Two civilians and two marines are killed during the North’s artillery barrage, prompted by the South’s live-fire exercise in disputed waters.

20 December South’s troops conduct 45th live-fire exercise of the year. Pyongyang backs down from threat of “catastrophic” consequences.

21 December Washington and Seoul are dismissive about the North’s promise to readmit international nuclear inspectors.

23 December The South stages largest winter drill . Its president, Lee Myung-bak, says he is ready to order a “merciless counterattack”. North Korea warns it is prepared to go nuclear in “holy war”.

South Korea North Korea Nuclear weapons Jonathan Watts

 

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India and the East: time for a reality check

Posted by Admin on December 16, 2010

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/article955349.ece

P. S. Suryanarayana

December 16, 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabo at the 4th East Asia Summit in Thailand in this October 25, 2009 file photo. — Photo: PTI

Resonant in the East Asian diplomatic circles is the now-famous perception that India is “half in, half out of Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations].” Such a “stupid” Indian policy or posture figured in a leaked United States’ diplomatic cable that was released by WikiLeaks and published in Australia on December 12.

Tommy Koh, one of Singapore’s brightest and best-known diplomats, was quoted in that cable as having said this about India’s Asean policy during his conversation with some U.S. officials in September 2009. As a key founding member of Asean, Singapore is often viewed as a thought-leader in the 10-member organisation. Also, the city-state often punches above its weight on the international stage. And, the Singapore-India Strategic Dialogue is co-chaired by Mr. Koh and veteran diplomat S.K. Lambah.

Now, Singapore has declined to confirm or discredit the accuracy of any of the observations which figured in a set of leaked American cables and were variously attributed to several officials, including Mr. Koh, from the city-state. On December 13, Singapore did, however, say that the Australian press reports in focus “are based on American interpretations of confidential conversations that did not provide the full context.” Singapore even disputed the veracity of those cables as supposedly released by WikiLeaks. The context, though, was Singapore-Malaysia relationship and not the comment on India.

On balance, it is obvious that the conscious or careless omission of these relevant U.S. cables from the official WikiLeaks website, as of mid-December, does not erase the friendly spirit behind the comment ascribed to Mr. Koh on India-Asean ties. In fact, the alleged comment may have caused no more than a storm in a teacup that will blow over. However, India does face the challenge of playing a significant role in Asean’s newly-expanded flagship organisation, the East Asia Summit (EAS), in 2011 and beyond. Indeed, the formal expansion of the EAS in 2011 is the time for a reality check about India’s relevance to and role in what may well turn out to be the next big theatre in global affairs.

Asean consists of just 10 Southeast Asian countries, most of them with no big-power aspirations. In significant contrast, the 16-member EAS, whose strength goes up to 18 in 2011, is being envisioned as “a leaders-led forum” for strategic thinking on all major issues of growing concern to East Asia.

The United States and Russia will, in 2011, join China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the 10-member Asean to form the expanded EAS. Within Asean, which acts as the prime-moving outfit for peace and economic progress across the wider geopolitical East Asia, there is a strong school of thought that the numerical strength of the EAS can be optimised at 18 for 2011 and beyond.

What should the reality check about India’s present and potential roles in East Asia focus on? The question acquires importance in the WikiLeaks context of another comment, also attributed to Mr. Koh, that China has displayed “intelligent diplomacy in the [East Asian] region.” On such a note of comparison, China and India can contribute to the stability of East Asia only by staying the course of their compatible diplomatic mantras. India and China have said that the international stage is wide enough for them to rise fully to their respective potential without having to compete with each other in a winner-takes-all gamesmanship.

There is nothing in the WikiLeaks disclosures, as available so far, focussing on a key point known behind the scenes in the East Asian diplomatic circles. Beijing is understood to have told Washington that Pakistan is to China what Israel is to the U.S. Going forward, it is arguable that New Delhi’s overall equation with Beijing will be determined considerably by China’s dynamic ties with Pakistan.

However, this aspect need not cloud India’s participation in the EAS activities. Pakistan is not a member of this organisation.

Of much interest to China is India’s changing political relationship with the U.S., especially as it enters the EAS in 2011. Relevant to this context are two of U.S. President Barack Obama‘s recent observations. He said that “India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time [across the world].” In addition, he exhorted India to not only look “East” but also engage “East” — a call for coordinated action by the U.S. and India in the new-look EAS in 2011 and beyond. In broad political terms, the changing equations among Japan, China, India, South Korea, and Australia will, in part, determine New Delhi’s place in the newly-expanded EAS.

The current perception in East Asia about India’s confused attitude towards the region, in contrast to China’s enlightened approach, flows from the style and substance of their respective engagement with Asean. As a far bigger and a faster-growing economy than India, China is of greater help to individual Asean countries and the collective organisation. Within this analytical framework about issues of “substance,” Asean countries tend to find India’s “style” less appealing than China’s.

The real issue is the basic difference between India and China in East Asia. India is seen to be far more protectionist than China in engaging the Asean countries and the collective forum on issues like trade pacts. This does not mean that China barters away its national interest in dealing with Asean.

Asean’s general perception is that India is less than wholehearted in fashioning future-oriented ties with East Asia for 2011 and beyond. India’s attitude may have something to do with China’s looming presence and also, until recently, New Delhi’s sluggish interactions with Japan and South Korea. However, there is a feeling in East Asia that India, as a country specially invited to the highest forum of this region, should evince genuine interest befitting such a guest.

In a subtle difference, China, Japan, and South Korea are native-states in East Asia, while the U.S. has long been a “resident power” in the region.

India’s East Asian partners will, therefore, watch closely for signs of its potential role in the region in such diverse fields as maritime security, climate change, energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, food security, outer-space exploration, besides the anti-terror agenda and cyberspace security.

Asean’s general perception is that India is less than wholehearted in fashioning ties with East Asia for 2011 and beyond.

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China knows less about NKorea than thought

Posted by Admin on November 30, 2010

Logo used by Wikileaks

BEIJINGChina knows less about and has less influence over its close ally North Korea than is usually presumed and is likely to eventually accept a reunified peninsula under South Korean rule, according to U.S. diplomatic files leaked to the WikiLeaks website.

The memos — called cables, though they were mostly encrypted e-mails — paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand an isolated, hard-line regime in the face of a dearth of information and indicate American and South Korean diplomats’ reliance on China’s analysis and interpretation.

The release of the documents, which included discussions of contingency plans for the regime’s collapse and speculation about when that might come, follows new tensions in the region. North Korea unleashed a fiery artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people a week ago and has since warned that joint U.S.-South Korean naval drills this week are pushing the peninsula to the “brink of war.”

The shelling comes on the heels of a slew of other provocative acts: An illegal nuclear test and several missile tests, the torpedoing of a SouthKorean warship and, most recently, an announcement that in addition to its plutonium program, it may also be pursuing the uranium path to a nuclear bomb.

The memos give a window into a period prior to the latest tensions, but they paint a picture of three countries struggling to understand isolated and unpredictable North Korea.

In the cables, China sometimes seems unaware of or uncertain about issues ranging from who will succeed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to the regime’s uranium enrichment plans and its nuclear test, suggesting that the North plays its cards close to its chest even with its most important ally.

Questioned about the enriched uranium program in June last year, Chinese officials said they believed that was program was “only in an initial phase” — a characterization that now appears to have been a gross underestimate.

China is Pyongyang’s closest ally — Beijing fought on the northern side of the Korean War and its aid props up the current regime — and its actions have often served to insulate North Korea from foreign pressure. It has repeatedly opposed harsh economic sanctions and responded to the latest crises by repeating calls for a return to long-stalled, six-nation denuclearization talks that the North has rejected.

But China would appear to have little ability to stop a collapse and less influence over the authorities in Pyongyang than is widely believed, South Korea’s then-vice foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, is quoted telling American Ambassador Kathleen Stephens in February.

China lacks the will to push Pyongyang to change its behavior, according to Chun, but Beijing will not necessarily oppose the U.S. and South Korea in the case of a North Korean collapse.

China “would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a ‘benign alliance’ as long as Korea was not hostile towards China,” Chun said.

Economic opportunities in a reunified Korea could further induce Chinese acquiescence, he said.

The diplomatic cables warn, however, that China would not accept the presence of U.S. troops north of the demilitarized zone that currently forms the North-South border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China would not comment specifically on the cables.

“China consistently supports dialogue between the North and South sides of the Korean peninsula to improve their relations,” Hong said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

In the leaked cable, Chun predicts the government in Pyongyang would last no more than three years following the death of ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who is seeking to transfer power to his youngest son Kim JongUn, a political ingenue in his 20s.

Chun also dismisses the possibility of Chinese military intervention if North Korea descended into chaos.

Despite that, China is preparing to handle any outbreaks of unrest along the border that could follow a collapse of the regime. Chinese officials say they could deal with up to 300,000 refugees, but might have to seal the border to maintain order, the memos say, citing an unidentified representative of an international aid group.

Chinese officials are also quoted using mocking language in reference to North Korea, pointing to tensions between the two neighbors in contrast to official statements underscoring strong historical ties.

Then-Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei is quoted as telling a U.S. official in April 2009 that Pyongyang was acting like a “spoiled child” by staging a missile test in an attempt to achieve its demand of bilateral talks with Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the leaked documents. Officials around the world have said the disclosure jeopardizes national security, diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships between foreign governments.

Five international media organizations, including The New York Times and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, were among those to receive the documents in advance. WikiLeaks is also slowly posting all the material on its own site.

 

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Signs of diplomacy in NKorea crisis

Posted by Admin on November 30, 2010

Coat of Arms of North Korea

Coat of Arms - North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea – A supercarrier sent jets into overcast skies Tuesday in U.S.-South Korean military drills that North Korea warned could spark war, but signs of diplomacy emerged alongside the tensions over last week’s deadly North Korean attack.

The North’s only major ally, China, hosted a top North Korean officialfor talks, and Japan also planned to send an envoy to China. The U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to talk next week in Washington about the North’s nuclear weapons and its Nov. 23 artillery barrage that killed four South Koreans.

It was unclear if the Beijing visit by North Korea’s Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the North’s Parliament, would lead to any diplomatic solution. China, under pressure to rein in its ally, proposed emergency regional talks earlier this week, but South Korea, the United States and Japan gave a cool response.

Even as diplomats scrambled, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables revealed signs of a rift in the relationship between China and North Korea, a striking contrast from official statements underscoring their strong historical ties.

Documents from the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks showed China’s frustration with the North and speculated that Beijing would accept a future Korean peninsula unified under South Korean rule.

The North, meanwhile, reminded the world it was forging ahead with its nuclear efforts. Pyongyang said Tuesday that it’s operating a modern uranium enrichment plant equipped with thousands of centrifuges. The main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial that the North is also building a light-water reactor.

The North first revealed the uranium program in early November to a visiting American scientist. A light-water nuclear power reactor is ostensibly for civilian energy purposes, but it gives the North a reason to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment would give the North a second way to make nuclear bombs, in addition to its known plutonium-based program.

North Korea has pushed for renewed international talks on receiving much-needed aid in return for commitments to dismantle nuclear programs, and its recent aggression could reflect frustration that those talks remain stalled.

The North unleashed an artillery barrage last week on a South Korean island that hit civilian areas, marking a new level of hostility along the contested maritime border between the Koreas. The attack killed two civilians and two marines.

In a major address Monday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak pledged a tough response if the North carries out any further attacks.

Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea analyst at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said sides in the standoff will have competing ideas on how to resolve tension.

“North Korea and China will want to resolve the matter through a dialogue,” he said, “while South Korea and the U.S. will say ‘Why negotiate at this time?’ and think about pressure and punitive measures” on the North.

The Wikileaks documents further complicate the diplomatic picture.

China, the documents show, “would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a ‘benign alliance’ as long as Korea was not hostile towards China,” then-South Korean vice-foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, is quoted as telling U.S. ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens in February.

Chun predicted the government in Pyongyang would last no more than three years following the death of ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who is seeking to pass power to son Kim Jong Un, an untested political newcomer in his 20s.

In Seoul, government officials declined to comment on Chun’s reported comments.

During Tuesday’s U.S.-South Korean military drills, a heavy fog engulfed the USS George Washington supercarrier. The carrier’s fog horn boomed out as U.S. aircraft took off and landed in quick succession.

Cmdr. Pete Walczak said the ship’s combat direction center was closely monitoring any signs of ships, aircraft of any other activity and that nothing unusual was detected from North Korea.

“Absolutely nothing,” Walczak said. “A lot of saber-rattling, fist-shaking, but once our presence is here, reality says that it’s really nothing.”

The North’s propaganda machine warned that the drills could trigger a “full-blown war” on the peninsula. “Our republic has a war deterrent that can annihilate any aggressor at once,” the government-run Minju Joson said.

On the streets of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, North Koreans spoke with pride of their military.

“Those who like fire are bound to be punished with fire,” Kim Yong Jun, a Pyongyang resident, told international broadcaster APTN.

A rally in Seoul, meanwhile, drew several thousand protesters who burned North Korean flags and called for the overthrow of Kim Jong Il. “We’ve had enough,” said Kim Jin-gyu, 64, adding that North Korea deserves punishment. “We should just smash it up.”

Yonhap news agency reported that Choe, the North Korean official, was expected to meet top Chinese communist party officials and discuss last week’s artillery barrage, the North’s nuclear program and the U.S.-South Korean military drills.

China has sought to calm tensions by calling for an emergency meeting among regional powers involved in six-party nuclear disarmament talks — the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russian and Japan — which have been stalled since last year.

Seoul, however, wants proof of Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization as well as a show of regret over the March sinking of a warship.

Japan rejected a new round of aid-for-disarmament talks any time soon, but announced Tuesday that a nuclear envoy would travel to China. Tokyo provided no further details

___

Santana and Kelly Olsen reported from aboard the USS George Washington. AP writers Foster Klug, Kim Kwang-tae and Ian Mader in Seoul, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, and photographer Jin-man Lee in Yeonpyeong contributed to this report.

 

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Defiant North Korea fires artillery warning shots

Posted by Admin on November 27, 2010

YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea – A defiant flash of North Korean artillery within sight of the island that it attacked this week sent a warning signal to Seoul and Washington: The North is not backing down.

The apparent military drill Friday 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. As a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier headed toward the Yellow Sea for exercises next week with South Korea, the North warned that the joint maneuvers will push the Korean peninsula to the “brink of war.”

South Korea’s government, meanwhile, struggled to recoup from the surprise attacks that killed four people, including two civilians, and forced its beleaguered defense minister to resign Thursday. President Lee Myung-bak on Friday named a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the post.

Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North’s strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of Yeonpyeong in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the disputed sea border.

The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — has laid bare Seoul’s weaknesses in defense 60 years after the Korean War. 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.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas comes as the North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.

Washington and Seoul have pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions amid worries of all-out war. A dispatch Friday from Chinese state media saying Beijing’s foreign minister had met the North Korean ambassador appeared to be an effort to trumpet China’s role as a responsible actor and placate the U.S. and the South.

The North sees the U.S.-South Korean drills scheduled to start Sunday as a major military provocation. Pyongyang unleashed its anger over the planned exercises in a dispatch earlier Friday.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war,” the report in the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

A North Korean official boasted that Pyongyang’s military “precisely aimed and hit the enemy artillery base” as punishment for South Korean military drills — a reference to Tuesday’s attack — and warned of another “shower of dreadful fire,” KCNA reported.

China expressed worry over any war games in waters within its exclusive economic zone, though the statement on the Foreign Ministry website didn’t mention the drills starting Sunday. That zone extends 230 miles (370 kilometers) from China’s coast and includes areas south of Yeonpyeong cited for possible maneuvers, although the exact location of the drills is not known.

North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. in 1953, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island its territory.

Yeonpyeong Island, home to South Korean military bases as well as a civilian population of about 1,300 people, lies only seven miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores.

The U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, said during a visit to the island that Tuesday’s attack was a clear violation of the armistice signed at the end of the three-year Korean War.

“We at United Nations Command will investigate this completely and call on North Korea to stop any future attacks,” he said.

Washington keeps more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect its ally — a sore point for North Korea, which cites the U.S. presence as the main reason behind its drive to build nuclear weapons.

Dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket, army fatigues and a black beret, Sharp carefully stepped down a devastated street strewn with debris and broken glass. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, Korean rice liquor.

On Friday, Associated Press photographers at an observation point on the northwest side of Yeonpyeong heard explosions and saw at least one flash of light on the North Korean mainland.

There were no immediate reports of damage. Only a few dozen residents remain on Yeonpyeong, with most of its population fleeing in the hours and days after the attack as authorities urged them to evacuate.

Many houses were burned out, half-collapsed or flattened, and the streets were littered with shattered windows, bent metal and other charred wreckage. Several stray dogs barked as they sat near destroyed houses. South Korean marines carrying M-16 rifles patrolled along a seawall at dawn.

About 200 South Koreans held a rally Friday in Seoul to denounce the government’s response to the attack as too weak. Similar recriminations have come from opposition lawmakers and even members of Lee’s own party, leading to the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young on Thursday.

There also has been intense criticism that Yeonpyeong was unprepared for the attack and that the return fire came too slowly. Lee named former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Kim Kwan-jin to the post, the president’s office said Friday.

While there is some shock at the extent of the damage the North Koreans were able to inflict, most South Koreans want the threat to be contained, not aggravated, and the government response has been muted and cautious, following an initial angry threat from Lee.

The president, dressed in a black suit, visited a military hospital in Seongnam near Seoul on Friday to pay his respects to the two marines killed in the North Korean attack.

Lee laid a white chrysanthemum, a traditional symbol of grief, on an altar, burned incense and bowed before framed photos of the two young men. Consoling sobbing family members, he vowed to build a stronger defense.

“I will make sure that this precious sacrifice will lay the foundation for the strong security of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote in a condolence book, according to his office.

South Korea assured a meeting of the European Olympic Committees on Friday that it would be able to ensure security at the 2018 Winter Games if it’s picked. The Pyeongchang 2018 bid committee presented its case Friday in Belgrade.

___

Foster Klug reported from Seoul. AP writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Kwang-tae Kim, Kelly Olsen and Jean H. Lee in Seoul also contributed to this report.

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South Korea defense minister quits after attack

Posted by Admin on November 25, 2010

Topographic map of South Korea. Created with G...

North/South Korea

 

YEONPYEONG, South Korea (Reuters) – South Korea’s defenseminister resigned on Thursday, two days after an attack by North Korea and amid criticism that the South’s response was too slow.

Kim Tae-young became the first political victim of the attack as China expressed muted criticism of forthcoming joint U.S-south Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea.

President Lee Myung-bak accepting his minister’s resignation “to improve the atmosphere in the military and to handle the series of incidents”, a presidential official said.

Kim had also tended his resignation in May after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, but Lee asked him to stay on in the job. The Cheonan attack, in which 46 sailors were killed, was also blamed on the North.

North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong off the peninsula’s west coast on Tuesday, killing two civilians and two soldiers and destroying dozens of houses.

South Korean troops fired back 13 minutes later, causing unknown damage. Members of Lee’s own party and opposition lawmakers accused the military of responding too slowly.

The government was also criticized for its perceived weak response to the Cheonan incident. North Korea has denied responsibility for that attack.

While China objected to the joint military exercises starting this weekend, North Korea threatened further attacks on the South if there were more “provocations”.

Seoul said it would increase troops on islands near North Korea after the bombardment, which caused a sharp spike in tension in the world’s fastest growing region.

Washington is putting increasing pressure on China to rein in North Korea, but a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said what was needed was a revival of the stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States.

“We have noted the relevant reports and express our concern about this,” spokesman Hong Lei said, referring to the joint military exercises and the involvement of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS GeorgeWashington in the drill.

But Beijing has previously used stronger language to signal its displeasure. In August, the People’s Liberation Army said earlier plans to send the George Washington to the Yellow Sea would make it lose respect and threatened long-term damage to Sino-U.S. relations.

Seoul expressed frustration with Beijing for not taking sides, noting even Russia had condemned this week’s attack.

“We must engage with China for it to take more responsibility on North Korea’s behavior,” said a government official, who asked not to be identified.

China has long propped up the Pyongyang leadership, worried that a collapse of the North could bring instability to its own borders. Beijing is also wary of a unified Korea that would be dominated by the United States, the key ally of the South.

BELLICOSE RHETORIC

There was no let-up in the typically bellicose language used by North Korea.

“(North Korea) will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a statement from the military as saying.

“The U.S. cannot evade the blame for the recent shelling,” it added. “If the U.S. truly desires detente on the Korean peninsula, it should not thoughtlessly shelter the South Korean puppet forces, but strictly control them so that they may not commit any more adventurous military provocations.”

North Korea said the shelling was in self-defense after Seoul fired shells into its waters. The South Korean government official said Seoul had been shocked by the attack for its “indiscriminate bombing of civilians”.

“We could not imagine such a grave provocation,” he said. “But now we see any kind of provocation is possible … and it makes it very easy to respond in the future.”

The official said Tuesday’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island could only have been ordered by reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim and his son and designated heir, Jong-un, visited the Yellow Sea coastal artillery base from where shells were fired at Yeonpyeong just hours before the attack, North Korean media reported.

“This kind of serious provocation could only be planned by Kim Jong-il,” the official said, adding the attack was also designed to promote the younger Kim’s military credentials.

U.S. officials have said the attack appeared linked to the upcoming succession in North Korea’s leadership.

It was the heaviest attack by the North since the Korean War ended in 1953 and marked the first civilian deaths in an assault since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

A bitterly cold wind was blowing through the hilly island on Thursday when reporters were allowed to visit for the first time since the attack. North Korea was clearly visible.

Houses were deserted with most residents having fled to the mainland, many with their roofs caved in and charred black. Broken glass was strewn in the narrow alleyways.

The deaths of civilians have added to anger in the South, and sparked heated debate in parliament over the military’s slow response — as well as calls for heads to roll. Defense Minister Kim had been one of the main targets.

While the rhetoric continues, global markets have moved on to other issues after Tuesday’s attack. The stock market opened up in Seoul on Thursday but closed almost flat. (Reporting by Seoul bureau; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)

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G-20 refuses to back US push on China’s currency

Posted by Admin on November 13, 2010

Foto Oficial de Líderes del G-20

Group of Twenty (G-20) Nations

SEOUL, South Korea – Leaders of 20 major economies on Friday refused to back a U.S. push to make China boost its currency’s value, keeping alive a dispute that raises fears of a global trade war amid criticism that cheap Chinese exports are costing American jobs.

A joint statement issued by the leaders including President Barack Obama and China’s Hu Jintao tried to recreate the unity that was evident when the Group of 20 rich and developing nations held its first summit two years ago during the global financial meltdown.

But deep divisions, especially over the U.S.-China currency dispute, left G-20 officials negotiating all night to draft a watered-down statement for the leaders to endorse.

“Instead of hitting home runs sometimes we’re gonna hit singles. But they’re really important singles,” Obama told a news conference after the summit.

Other leaders also tried to portray the summit as a success, pointing to their pledges to fight protectionism and develop guidelines next year that will measure the imbalances between trade surplus and trade deficit countries.

The G-20’s failure to adopt the U.S. stand has underlined Washington’s reduced influence on the international stage, especially on economic matters. In another setback, Obama also failed to conclude a freetrade agreement this week with South Korea.

The biggest disappointment for the United States was the pledge by the leaders to refrain from “competitive devaluation” of currencies. Such a statement is of little consequence since countries usually only devalue their currencies — making it less worth against the dollar — in extreme situations like a severe financial crisis.

The statement decided against using a slightly different wording favored by the U.S. — “competitive undervaluation,” which would have shown the G-20 taking a stronger stance on China’s currency policy.

The crux of the dispute is Washington’s allegations that Beijing is artificially keeping its currency, the yuan, weak to gain a trade advantage.

U.S. business lobbies say that a cheaper yuan costs American jobs because production moves to China to take advantage of low labor costs and undervalued currency.

A stronger yuan would shrink the U.S. trade deficit with China, which is on track this year to match its 2008 record of $268 billion, and encourage Chinese companies to sell more to their own consumers rather than rely so much on the U.S. and others to buy low-priced Chinese goods.

But the U.S. position has been undermined by its own central bank’s decision to print $600 billion to boost a sluggish economy, which is weakening the dollar.

Also, developing countries like Thailand and Indonesia fear that much of the “hot” money will flood their markets, where returns are higher. Such emerging markets could be left vulnerable to a crash if investors later decide to pull out and move their money elsewhere.

Obama said China’s currency policy is an “irritant” not just for the United States but for many of its other trading partners. The G-20 countries — ranging from industrialized nations such as U.S. and Germany to developing ones like China, Brazil and India — account for 85 percent of the world’s economic activity.

“China spends enormous amounts of money intervening in the market to keep it undervalued so what we have said is it is important for China in a gradual fashion to transition to a market based system,” Obama said.

The dispute is threatening to resurrect destructive protectionist policies like those that worsened the GreatDepression in the 1930s. The biggest fear is that trade barriers will send the global economy back into recession.

The possibility of a currency war “absolutely” remains, said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega.

Friday’s statement is also unlikely to resolve the most vexing problem facing the G-20 members: how to fix a global economy that’s long been marked by huge U.S. trade deficits with exporters like China, Germany and Japan.

Americans consume far more in foreign goods and services from these countries than they sell abroad.

The G-20 leaders said they will try to reduce the gaps between nations running large trade surpluses and those running deficits.

The “persistently large imbalances” in current accounts — a broad measure of a nation’s trade and investment with the rest of the world — would be measured by what they called “indicative guidelines” to be determined later.

The leaders called for the guidelines to be developed by the G-20, along with help from the International Monetary Fund and other global organizations, and for finance ministers and central bank governors to meet in the first half of next year to discuss progress.

Analysts were not convinced.

“Leaders are putting the best face on matters by suggesting that it is the process that matters rather than results,” said Stephen Lewis, chief economist for London-based Monument Securities.

“The only concrete agreement seems to be that they should go on measuring the size of the problem rather than doing something about it.”

___

Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Kelly Olsen, Jean H. Lee, Greg Keller, Luis Alonso and Kim Hyung-jin in Seoul contributed to this report.

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Koreas exchange gunfire at land border

Posted by Admin on October 30, 2010

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea exchanged gunfire across their heavily armed land border on Friday, the South’s military said, despite an apparent thaw in tensions on the divided peninsula in the past few months.

The rare exchange of fire took place a fortnight before the leaders of the world’s 20 top economies meet for a G20 summit in the South Korean capital Seoul, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the demilitarized zone.

The South’s defense ministry said in a statement none of its troops were hurt, and there had been “no more unusual activity by the North.” A South Korean military official said the army had put on heightened alert.

It was not immediately clear what was behind the skirmish, but in the past the North has carried out similar provocations around the time the South has hosted prominent international events.

YTN television said, however, it was unlikely that the North had deliberately fired across toward the South only hours before families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War were due to be reunited for the first time.

The North Korean frontline guard post fired two shots toward a South Korean guardpost across the DMZ and the South returned fire with three shots, a joint chiefs of staff official said.

The South Korea military official said he had not received any communication from the North. A United Nations team will be sent to the area on Saturday, he added.

The North Korean shots were fired at a frontline unit in Cheorwon in the eastern province of Gangwon.

The last time the two Koreas were exchanged fire was in January, the they fired artillery round at disputed seaborder.

Relations between the two Koreas, still technically at war after signing only a truce to halt hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War, sank to the lowest level in years in March with the torpedoing of the South’s warship, killing 46 sailors.

South Korea and the United States said the North was responsible for the sinking, but Pyongyang denied any role.

In the past few months, tensions have eased on the peninsula with the South sending aid to its impoverished neighbor, and on the weekend the two sides will resume the reunions.

But the border skirmish and news that North-South military talks had broken down showed that the two sides were still far apart, and underlined there was little chance of a resumption any time soon of stalled talks on theNorth’s nuclear arms program.

South Korea rejected the North’s proposal for more military talks and said it wouldn’t return to the negotiating table until its neighbor admitted responsibility for the sinking of the warship.

“When looking back on the history of the North-South relations, it is very hard to find a precedent in which one party rejected the talks proposed by the other party even when the bilateral relations reached the lowest ebb,” the North’s KCNA state news agency reported.

“This was because the rejection of dialogue precisely meant confrontation and war.”

This weekend’s resumption of family reunions, which were last held over a year ago, was the most tangible sign yet of a thaw in tensions. Earlier this week, South Korean government sent its first delivery of aid to the North in more than two years.

(Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Nick Macfie.)

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US to conduct naval exercises with S Korea after attack

Posted by Admin on May 26, 2010

A giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan off Baengnyeong Island, South Korea, file picture from 24 April 2010

The US has confirmed it will hold naval exercises with South Korea, after a report blamed the North for the sinking of a Southern warship, officials say.

The Pentagon said the joint anti-submarine and other military exercises would start “in the near future”.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak earlier froze trade with Pyongyang, vowing to punish those who carried out the attack.

North Korea has said it will retaliate for any action taken against it.

The country’s main newspaper called the investigation an “intolerable, grave provocation”.

‘Unequivocal support’

South Korea has said it will refer the North to the UN Security Council in response to the sinking of the Cheonan – and the resulting death of 46 sailors – in March.

In a move endorsed by the US, President Lee said in a televised address that Seoul would no longer tolerate “any provocative act by the North and will maintain a principle of proactive deterrence”.

Analysts describe the joint exercises as a statement of US commitment to help Seoul rather than an attempt to intimidate Pyongyang.Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the decision to start joint naval exercises was “a result of the findings of this recent incident”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier that her country was working hard to avoid an escalation.

After talks in China, she urged countries in the region to contain “the highly precarious situation created by North Korea”.

China – North Korea’s closest trading partner and a permanent member of the Security Council – has urged “restraint”.

Japan said it was contemplating its own sanctions on Pyongyang.

The North depends on South Korea and China for up to 80% of its trade and 35% of its GDP.

In 2009, inter-Korean trade stood at $1.68bn (£1.11bn) – 13% of the North’s GDP.

The measures announced by South Korea included:

  • Stopping inter-Korean trade
  • Banning North Korean ships from using South Korean waterways or shortcuts
  • Resuming “psychological warfare”
  • Referring the case to the UN Security Council

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says the measures are as tough a response as the South could take short of military action.

They reported that parts of the torpedo retrieved from the sea floor had lettering that matched a North Korean design.The measures came less than a week after experts from the US, the UK, Australia and Sweden said in a report that a torpedo had hit the Cheonan.

Pyongyang denies any involvement in the sinking, calling the investigation a “fabrication” and threatening war if sanctions were imposed.

“If [South Korea] sets up new tools for psychological warfare such as loudspeakers and leaves slogans for psychological warfare intact, ignoring our demands, we will directly aim and open fire to destroy them,” a statement by the military said on Monday.

“More powerful physical strikes will be taken to eradicate the root of provocation if [South Korea] challenges to our fair response,” said a commander, according to official news agency KCNA.

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