Bill Van Auken / World Socialist Web Site & The Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea Steering Committee Statement – 2010-12-13 00:35:37
US-China Tensions Mount Amid Widening War Exercises
Bill Van Auken / Global Research & World Socialist Web Site
(December 12, 2010) — A late night Sunday telephone call between US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao underscored the mounting tensions between the two countries in the wake of last month’s military clash between North and South Korea.
The White House and the Chinese Foreign Ministry each issued one-sided accounts of the telephone conversation, illustrating the deep gulf dividing Washington and Beijing over the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
The White House statement stressed that Obama had condemned the artillery attack carried out by North Korea on Yeongpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on November 23, in which two South Korean soldiers and two civilians died. The US president demanded that the North Korean government in Pyongyang “halt its provocative behavior.”
“He urged China to work with us and others to send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable,” the statement said. “The president also highlighted the American commitment to the security of its allies in the region.”
For his part, Hu issued a stark warning. “Especially if not dealt with properly, tensions could well rise on the Korean peninsula or spin out of control, which would not be in anyone’s interest,” Hu was quoted as saying by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
According to this account, Hu told Obama that China was “deeply worried” about the situation in the region.
While expressing Chinaâ€™s regret over the deaths in the artillery exchange, Hu made no condemnation of North Korea. Beijing has not affixed blame for the incident, which North Korea claimed was provoked by a South Korean military exercise that, according to Pyongyang, included the firing of South Korean artillery on Yeongpyeong Island into North Korean waters.
Yeongpyeong Island lies near the so-called Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that the US military unilaterally imposed at the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korea has never accepted the division, insisting that the border should lie further south.
A series of military exercises in the region have continued to ratchet up tensions between the two Koreas as well as between Washington and Beijing.
On Monday, South Korea’s military launched week-long maritime live-fire exercises that involve shelling in 29 separate areas in waters off the Korean coast.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that, while this round of exercises will not include artillery fire in the waters off Yeongpyeong Island, where the military confrontation with the North erupted last month, another live-fire exercise that will include the island is to be staged soon.
South Korea’s new defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, dismissed North Korean warnings over the new war games. “I don’t care about North Korean responses and they are not worth considering,” he said.
Pyongyang on Sunday condemned the live-fire drills, charging that the South was “hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war.”
Kim, a former army general, was installed as defense minister after his predecessor resigned amid charges in the media and government that he had not responded aggressively enough to the North Korean shelling of Yeongpyeong.
The new defense minister has issued a series of bellicose statements vowing to retaliate with even greater force against any new North Korean attack. New artillery fire, he threatened, would be answered by the South Korean air force bombing North Korea. “The principles of proportionality and necessity do not apply,” Kim said. “The extent to which we invoke the right of self-defense is until the enemy’s resolve to provoke is eliminated.”
He added, “If North Korea carries out a military provocation targeting our territory and citizens again [we] need to punish them with immediate and powerful reaction until they completely give in.”
Meanwhile, US and Japanese armed forces continued military exercises begun last Friday involving some 40,000 military personnel. The war games, led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its battle group, include the simulated defense of an island — an exercise that seems pointedly directed at China, given the tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over disputed islands in the East China Sea. These tensions boiled over last September following Japanâ€™s arrest of a fishing captain after a collision between his boat and Japanese coast guard vessels.
The exercises were significant for the participation of South Korean military observers. Relations between the two countries have been historically strained. Japanâ€™s 35-year colonial occupation of Korea ended only with the Japanese defeat in World War II.
Tokyo is reportedly also preparing to issue a new rearmament plan directed against China and North Korea.
According to Nikkei, the Japanese business daily, the new “National Defense Program Guideline,” the first to be issued since 2004, will call for a “dynamic defense capability” directed at countering China in the East China Sea. It will include proposals for expanding the country’s submarine fleet and increasing its number of warplanes.
Formally Japan’s post-World War II constitution forswears the maintenance of a military, but Tokyo has over the past five years introduced a series of constitutional and administrative changes paving the way for the military buildup of its Self-Defense Forces.
The latest South Korean and Japanese exercises come on the heels of a US-South Korean deployment in the Yellow Sea in which the US carrier battle group also participated.
Meanwhile, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled on Monday to South Korea in another show of military support for the US ally.
Beijing has condemned the military exercises. A statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry last week warned, “Brandishing force cannot solve the issue. Some are playing with knives and guns, while China is criticized for calling for dialogue. Is that fair?”
The Chinese government has called for an emergency meeting of the principals in the Six-Party Talks aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US. The governments of South Korea, Japan and the US have all rejected the proposal, insisting that the talks cannot be resurrected without prior concessions from North Korea.
Instead, the Obama administration convened a meeting in Washington Monday between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her South Korean and Japanese counterparts to condemn “provocative attacks from North Korea.”
“We are committed to our partners and we are committed to the preservation of peace and stability in Northeast Asia and on the Korean peninsula,” Clinton said.
Coming in the wake of the three countries’ rejection of the call for the emergency talks between the six-party participants in Beijing, the gathering had the appearance of anti-China bloc.
It was accompanied by sharp anti-Beijing rhetoric from US foreign policy officials.
“The Chinese embrace of North Korea in the last eight months has served to convince North Korea that China has its back and has encouraged it to behave with impunity,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. “We think the Chinese have been enabling North Korea.”
The Post reported, “The accusations mark a further deterioration of the tone and direction of the US relationship with Asia’s emerging giant.” The paper added that the Obama administration’s “position now that China is in effect partially to blame for the problems is new.”
For its part, China’s People’s Daily pointed to the deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing with an opinion column published Monday entitled “How should China handle America’s ‘return to Asia’?”
Beginning with a reference to the recent appearance of the US aircraft carrier battle group in the Yellow Sea, the column pointed to Washington’s attempt to “implement various sanctions, restrictions and inhibitions on China,” to its demands for currency revaluations and its intervention in the territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea.
The growth of China to the status of the world’s second largest economy, the column indicates, is “instinctively seen by the United States as a direct or indirect challenge to its hegemonic status.”
While concluding that China should adhere to a policy of “peaceful development and international cooperation,” the column adds, “However, Chinaâ€™s foreign policy will of course advance with the times, namely that China will adjust the policy at the proper time according to its own will.”
Underscoring the sharp economic and political contradictions underlying the mounting tensions, Peopleâ€™s Daily also reported Tuesday that a new “Sino-Korean industrial park” is being created in Chongqing with an initial investment of $950 million. The deal was reached at a meeting Monday that included delegations from the Chinese and South Korean governments as well as representatives from large Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK and Pohang Iron and Steel.
The industrial park, the report said, would provide Korean capital with “a positive platform to enter the interior regions of China and to further enhance the Sino-Korean economic and trade ties.”
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The Crisis in Korea:
Rapid Military Escalation, Dangers of an All-Out War
Korea Policy Institute / The Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea ASCK Steering Committee Statement
(December 9, 2010) — The armed forces of North Korea, South Korea, and United States stand poised to wage a war that could destroy the Korean peninsula and engulf the world in a nuclear holocaust. It is a war that can and must be avoided.
Last week, a joint US-South Korean military exercise escalated into artillery exchange between the two Koreas. North Korea’s artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island killed four and wounded many more. South Korea’s response left an as-yet unknown number of casualties in the North. Now the United States and South Korea have begun joint war games in the Yellow Sea.
US forces include the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, the 7th Air Force stationed in Osan, and the aircraft carrier USS George Washington based in Yokosuka. US and South Korean marines will stage a combined amphibious landing exercise on the west coast of Korea.
These massive military maneuvers are escalating tensions and threaten to trigger general armed conflict. We appeal to all sides to desist immediately from warlike actions and stop this cycle of ever-increasing threats and shows of force. All parties must back down before sparking a conflict that would threaten millions of lives.
Background to the Rapid Military Escalation
On November 22nd, the South Korean and American armed forces began annual military exercises involving 70,000 soldiers deployed throughout the South, including the West Sea. Fifty warships, 90 helicopters, 500 warplanes, and 600 tanks were being mobilized for the war simulation exercises, scheduled to last until the end of the month.
Amidst the tension heightened by the exercise, South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong Island, just seven miles from the North Korean coast, fired an unknown number of artillery shells into waters claimed by both Pyongyang and Seoul.
Hours later, the North Korean military began shelling Yeonpyeong, an island with military bases as well as a fishing community of 1,300 residents. The South Korean military responded by firing its own artillery at North Korean bases.
North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island left two soldiers and two civilians dead and over fifteen wounded. Most of the civilians have had to flee the island. The number of casualties and the level of destruction in the North are not known but could be higher, given the technological superiority of the South’s artillery.
Immediately following the artillery exchange, President Barack Obama dispatched the George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and President Lee Myung-bak announced that the rules of engagement for the South Korean armed forces have been changed, allowing for an asymmetrical response to a North Korean attack.
The North ratcheted up the tension with the statement that it “will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation, if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again.” As the US-South Korea joint military exercises get underway, tensions are rising yet higher.
The Imperative for Negotiations
We deplore all actions that lead to the loss of lives. We denounce the provocative military actions directed at North Korea by South Korea and the United States. We denounce North Korea’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island that killed at least four people. We call on the governments of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States to halt their reckless introduction of even greater military force that escalates tensions and risks further loss of life.
We call on all three governments — North Korea, South Korea, and the United States — to stop inflaming an already dangerous situation through their provocative actions and heated rhetoric. They should immediately cease the military exercises and maneuverings that will inevitably escalate tensions.
We call on the three governments to resume negotiations immediately in order to defuse tensions and to work toward finally ending the Korean War. The recent incident on Yeonpyeong is a deeply tragic reminder of the perilous state of ongoing conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Since Korea was divided after World War II, a continuing state of war has been the structural cause of artillery exchanges and border clashes. A heightened risk of conflict will remain unless the Korean War is finally brought to an end with a peace treaty, which would establish the mutual recognition of borders and the normalization of relations.
The current crisis therefore underscores the imperative for diplomacy to transform the fragile armistice into a durable structure of peace based on the negotiation of a peace treaty, normalized relations, and the denuclearization of the peninsula. Talks may seem improbable under the present circumstances, but they are needed most when they seem hardest to start. This is such a moment.
â€¨Alexis Dudden, University of Connecticutâ€¨
John Duncan, UCLAâ€¨
Henry Em, New York University
â€¨John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focusâ€¨
Martin Hart-Landsberg, Lewis and Clark Collegeâ€¨
Monica Kim, University of Michiganâ€¨
Suzy Kim, Rutgers University
â€¨Namhee Lee, UCLAâ€¨
Jae-Jung Suh, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University
â€¨Seung Hye Suh, Korea Policy Instituteâ€¨
Theodore Jun Yoo, University of Hawaii at Manoa