The U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to take part in exercises off the Korean Peninsula in a show of strength after North Korea fired artillery onto South Korean soil for the first time in half a century.
President Barack Obama talked with South Korean counterpart Lee Myung Bak for 30 minutes by phone and dispatched the USS George Washington from Japan today to take part in the drills. These will take place off the South’s western coast from Nov. 28-Dec. 1, the U.S. Forces Korea said in an e-mailed statement. There are about 25,000 American troops stationed in South Korea.
“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with our close friend and ally,” Obama told Lee, according to a White House statement. North Korea must stop its “provocative actions, which will only lead to further isolation.” The two leaders agreed that further sanctions against North Korea may be necessary, Lee’s office said in a statement.
South Korea raised its military alert status to the second- highest level after North Korea yesterday fired onto the island of Yeonpyeong, Defense Minister Kim Tae Young said today in Seoul. Four people were killed and 20 wounded, mostly soldiers, when Northern forces shelled the island in the first attack of its kind since the 1950-1953 civil war.
South Korea’s benchmark Kospi Index fell 0.2 percent to 1,925.98, after earlier dropping as much as 2.4 percent. Defense-related companies surged. Korean Airlines Co. declined 2 percent in Seoul. The won dropped to a two-month low against the dollar.
Tensions with Kim Jong Il’s regime have risen in the past year after the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March killed 46 sailors. Obama this week dispatched envoy Stephen Bosworth to Asia after a U.S. scientist reported that North Korea said it had built a uranium-enrichment plant.
“The combination of the enrichment revelations and then this artillery attack really make it a front-burner issue” for the U.S., said Victor Cha, who holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
North Korea fired about 170 artillery shells, 90 of which landed in the water, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Lee ordered his administration to see if the military’s battle manuals can be revised to “respond more actively” to provocations and bolstered military capabilities on islands on the western border, according to a statement from his office.
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan today called the incident a “barbaric act.” His government will consider fresh sanctions against North Korea, Economy Minister Banri Kaieda said.
Japan’s Korean Residents
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the government may exclude North Korean citizens from tuition subsidies at high schools. Japan in May tightened controls on sending money to North Korea in response to the Cheonan sinking, lowering the cap on undeclared cash transfers to 3 million yen ($36,000) from 10 million yen.
Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. said they suspended business travel to South Korea as a result of yesterday’s attack.
Before speaking with Lee, Obama met in the White House Situation Room with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, the White House said.
Obama’s challenge is to get China to put more pressure on North Korea, said Cha, a former deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks involving the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea. Those talks are aimed at getting the government in Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Obama said in an interview with ABC News that China needs to do more to make North Korea abide by international rules. China is North Korea’s biggest economic and political ally.
“We hope the parties do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing yesterday.
North Korea initiated the exchange of artillery fire, Bosworth told reporters in Beijing yesterday after meeting with Chinese officials.
North Korea accused South Korea of opening fire first and warned of more “merciless military attacks” if its territory is violated. The North Korean army’s Supreme Command made the statement via the official Korean Central News Agency.
China is increasingly frustrated with the actions of its ally North Korea, though there likely won’t be any immediate change to Chinese policy, Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said in an interview.
“This attack proves that North Korea is entirely a minus to China’s foreign policy,” Zhu said. “I see growing frustration and I see a new imperative to overhaul the policy.”
Shada Islam, an Asia expert at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, said national interests will determine when China loses patience with North Korea.
“China doesn’t believe in megaphone diplomacy in most cases, so don’t judge Beijing by its public statements but rather by what they do behind the scenes,” Islam said in an interview. “The Chinese leadership isn’t worried about how the world sees them.”
“The North Korean issue is a tinder box for the region,” said Gavin Parry, managing director of Hong Kong-based Parry International Trading Ltd. “They like to saber-rattle for attention, but on the heels of a nuclear inspection that indicated they could have bomb capabilities, markets can’t afford to ignore any instability for the region.”
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