China `concerned` about US-South Korea military drill

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi delays a plan to visit Seoul this week.

Seoul: China expressed concern on Thursday about joint US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea while North Korea threatened more attacks on the wealthy South if there are more "provocations”.

Seoul said it would increase troops on islands near North Korea following Tuesday`s bombardment of one of its small islands by Pyongyang`s artillery, which has 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 reviving the stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States was urgently needed.

"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 George Washington 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 threatened long-term damage to Sino-US relations.

There was no let-up however 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 US cannot evade the blame for the recent shelling," it added. "If the US 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."

South Korean media reports said Tuesday`s artillery attack was likely personally 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 a South Korean island near the disputed maritime boundary just hours before the attack, newspapers in Seoul said.

South Korea`s military was "focusing on the possibility of Kim Jong-Il and his son approving the shelling of Yeonpyeong," the Chosun Ilbo quoted an unnamed member of the National Assembly`s Defence Committee as saying.

No rogue commander

The government declined comment but, if correct, would rule out one theory that the North`s bombardment of Yeonpyeong, just south of the disputed border, might have been the decision of a rogue military commander.

At least four people, including two civilians, were killed and dozens of houses destroyed on the island in the heaviest attack by the North since the Korean War ended in 1953.

It marked the first civilian deaths in an assault since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987. North Korea said the shelling was in self-defence after Seoul fired shells into its waters.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting early on Thursday to look at how to contain the economic impact from the attack and additional security measures.

The military presence on islands in the Yellow Sea near the disputed border will be boosted and an earlier plan to scale down marine troops stationed there will be cancelled, a presidential Blue House official said later.

South Korea also said it would pursue constructive engagement with China to use its influence over Pyongyang.

That plan looked to have suffered a setback with a later announcement that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had delayed a plan to visit Seoul this week. No reason was given.

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.

"If China does not put public pressure on North Korea, provocations by North Korea will continue," Seoul`s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said. "If the Korean peninsula is in flames, Chinese prosperity will shake from the bottom."

The deaths of civilians have added to anger in the South.

"Let me say a word about those bastards at the Blue House who advised the president to say the situation should be managed to avoid a full-blown war," the Korea Joongang Daily quoted ruling party Rep Hong Sa-duk as saying.

"They must all be fired for advising the president to have such a weak response."

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.

Bureau Report

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