South Korea: A U.S. aircraft carrier group set off for Korean waters on Wednesday, a day after North Korea rained artillery shells on a South Korean island, in a move likely to enrage Pyongyang and unsettle its ally, China.
South Korea said the bodies of two civilians were found on the island after Tuesday`s attack, which is likely to stir up more resentment in the country against its prickly neighbour.
The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, left a naval base south of Tokyo and would join exercises with South Korea from Sunday to the following Wednesday, U.S. officials in Seoul said.
"This exercise is defensive in nature," U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement. "While planned well before yesterday`s unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the ROK (South Korea)-U.S. alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence."
North Korea said the South was driving the peninsula to the "brink of war" with "reckless military provocation" and by postponing humanitarian aid. The dispatch did not refer to the planned military drills.
The government in Seoul came under pressure for the military`s slow response to the provocation, echoing similar complaints made when a warship was sunk in March in the same area, killing 46 sailors.
Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was grilled by lawmakers who said the government should have taken quicker and stronger retaliatory measures against the North`s provocation.
"I am sorry that the government has not carried out ruthless bombing through jet fighters during the North`s second round of shelling," said Kim Jang-soo, a lawmaker of ruling Grand National Party and a former defense minister.
Tuesday`s attack was the heaviest in the region 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.
The United States and Japan urged China to do more to rein in North Korea after the reclusive nation fired scores of artillery shells on Tuesday at a South Korean island near the maritime boundary between the two sides.
Beijing will not be pleased by the deployment of the aircraft carrier and will not respond to such pressure, said Xu Guangyu, a retired major-general in the People`s Liberation Army who now works for a government-run arms control organization.
"China will not welcome the U.S. aircraft carrier joining the exercises, because that kind of move can escalate tensions and not relieve them," he said.
"Our biggest objective is stability on the Korean peninsula. That interest is not served by abandoning North Korea, and so there`s no need to rethink the basics of the relationship."
Beijing has previously said that an earlier plan to send the USS George Washington to U.S.-South Korea joint exercises threatened long-term damage to Sino-U.S. relations.
Tuesday`s bombardment nagged at global markets, already unsettled by worries over Ireland`s debt problem and looking to invest in less risky assets. But South Korea`s markets, after sharp falls, recovered lost ground.
"If you look back at the last five years when we`ve had scares, they were all seen as buying opportunities. The rule among hedge funds and long-only funds is that you let the market sell off and watch for your entry point to get involved," said Todd Martin.