Lee Vows to Make North Korea Pay for Military Attack as China Urges Talks

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak vowed to make Kim Jong Il’s regime pay for military attacks as China sought talks to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula.

“It’s become clear that more patience and tolerance only leads to bigger provocations,” Lee said today in a national address from Seoul in which he apologized for the government’s weak response to the Nov. 23 shelling. “North Korea will be made to pay for any further provocation no matter what.”

South Korea has doubled its artillery strength on the disputed island of Yeonpyeong that was hit by shells fired from North Korea last week, and asked journalists to leave, Yonhap News reported. The North Koreans have installed surface-to-air missiles in the area, it said. South Korea’s defense ministry declined to comment on the reports today.

“Emergency” discussions involving the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan should be held next month in Beijing, Wu Dawei, China’s top envoy, said yesterday. The time isn’t right for a meeting, Lee told visiting Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo the same day in Seoul, Yonhap said.

“The six-party talks cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations,” Nicholas J.C. Snyder, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said in an emailed response to questions today. “Clear steps by North Korea are needed to demonstrate a change of behavior.”

Shock Absorbed

The Korean won rose 0.6 percent to 1,152.46 won per dollar at the 3 p.m. market close in Seoul, after dropping as much as 0.4 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The benchmark Kospi index fell 0.3 percent.

The shock to financial markets has been mostly absorbed, South Korea’s Finance Minister Yoon Jeun Hyun said today. Moody’s Investors Service said in an e-mailed statement that geopolitical risk has already been taken into account in assessing South Korea’s credit ratings.

South Korea will consider China’s proposal for talks “very cautiously,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Seoul said in a commentary posted on its website. Ministry spokesman Kim Young Sun told reporters today that the government won’t endorse “talks for the sake of talks.”

More than 80 percent of South Koreans said their government should have displayed a “stronger military response,” according to a survey by the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. The Nov. 27 telephone poll of 1,000 people aged 19 or older had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Willing to Risk War

While 65 percent of respondents said they opposed war, 33 percent said they were willing to risk one in delivering a strong military response to further provocations by North Korea. About 92 percent said they were dissatisfied with China’s reaction to the attack.

Lee visited the U.S. and South Korea combined forces command today in central Seoul in a show of support for joint drills this week off the peninsula’s west coast, his office said in a statement on its website.

North Korea “will deal a merciless military counter-attack at any provocative act of intruding into its territorial waters,” said a Rodong newspaper commentary carried yesterday by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. U.S. and South Korean warships led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington have begun four days of exercises in the region.

China Initiatives

In calling for the six-party talks, China wants to look like it’s taking “some initiatives on this important matter,” said Li Cheng, the head of research at the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Residents of Yeonpyeong, where the artillery bombardment by the North also left 20 people injured, were temporarily ordered to take refuge in bomb shelters yesterday after more firing was heard on the North Korean mainland.

U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. is trying to prevent tensions from escalating into a more significant confrontation.

“We’re very focused on restraint and not letting this thing get out of control,” Mullen told CNN in an interview.

The U.S. is also concerned that North Korea presents a proliferation threat. Secret American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iran obtained 19 advanced missiles from North Korea, the New York Times reported, citing diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks and made available to the newspaper.

Cheonan Sinking

The shelling of Yeonpyeong revived tensions that flared after an international inquiry concluded that North Korea torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan in March.

The naval drills, which include four smaller American warships as well as the George Washington, six South Korean vessels, jets, helicopters and more than 7,000 personnel, are “defensive in nature” the U.S. military said. They were initially planned before the shelling of Yeonpyeong.

The nuclear-powered carrier, which holds about 75 aircraft, was last in waters off the Korean Peninsula in July as part of drills after the Cheonan’s sinking, which killed 46 sailors.

China’s Xinhua News Agency said Choe Tae Bok, chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, will visit China from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

Shipping was warned to avoid an area of the Yellow Sea parallel to China’s northeastern city of Qingdao while gunnery exercises take place until Dec. 3, according to the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Qingdao lies about 615 kilometers (382 miles) west of Seoul and the designated area is in the middle of the sea between the two countries.

China’s Foreign Ministry warned against holding the exercises in China’s 200 kilometer “exclusive economic zone” without its authorization, Xinhua reported. The Pentagon reiterated that the U.S. military notified China of the planned exercise in keeping with past practice.

The western sea border, demarcated by the UN after the war and never accepted by North Korea, was the scene of deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sungwoo Park in Seoul at spark47@bloomberg.net; Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net; Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net

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