South Korea said a live-firing drill that drew threats of retaliation from North Korea was completed without incident, after the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on steps to ease tension on the peninsula.
Artillery positions on Yeonpyeong Island shelled after a similar exercise last month ceased firing around 4 p.m. local time, said a Defense Ministry official in Seoul who declined to be named, citing government policy. North Korea said it doesn’t need to respond to all military provocations, calling the drill “a childish play with fire of cowards,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported, citing the army’s supreme command. Even so, it said a “powerful retaliatory strike” might “lead to blowing up the bases of the U.S. and South Korean puppet warmongers” at any time.
“In the world of North Korea we call any day progress when war hasn’t broken out,” Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and nuclear envoy under President George W. Bush, said on Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness with Margaret Brennan.” “The real difference here is that the South Korean government is not prepared to play along anymore.”
Yeonpyeong abuts the western coast sea border that North Korea says is illegal and that the South insists it will police. An emergency meeting of the Security Council ended last night without agreement as China blocked moves to condemn the North and Russia urged that the drills be scrapped.
Postponement “would appear as if they’re surrendering, as if they’re bowing to North Korean pressure,” Andrei Lankov, an associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said on Bloomberg Television today. The public is in a “bellicose mood,” he said. “They see Chinese and Russian actions as interference in South Korean domestic politics.”
South Korean stocks and the won earlier fell the most in three weeks. The Kospi stock index opened 0.9 percent lower after tensions rose over the weekend. The benchmark fell as much as 1.5 percent before the drills, recouping losses to end 0.3 percent down at 2,020.28. The won fell to a 1-month low as investors also sold South Korean assets after the government proposed tighter curbs on capital flows to head off inflation.
The North had earlier threatened retaliation for any shelling of waters that it claims as its own, saying that the response would be stronger than the Nov. 23 bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, in which four people died.
Live-fire drills “would make it impossible to prevent the situation on the Korean peninsula from exploding,” KCNA cited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying on Dec. 18.
President Lee Myung Bak said today it is South Korea’s sovereign right to hold military drills to protect its territory, according to a statement from his office. Lee told the military to be prepared for any provocation, even after the drill. South Korea saw no reason to abandon the maneuvers because other nations opposed them, a military spokesman said yesterday.
The government lifted its evacuation order on the island at 6.30 p.m. local time, broadcaster YTN reported, without saying where it got the information.
The “exercises are fully consistent with South Korea’s right to self defense,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said after the council meeting, adding that it was unlikely the members would find common ground on the issue. “It is safe to predict the gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged.”
China urged all parties to avoid actions that would escalate tension, and called for “maximum restraint,” according to a statement by spokeswoman Jiang Yu on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website posted after the drills.
China declined to join a majority of the Security Council members in condemning North Korea’s Nov. 23 attack, according to a diplomat present at the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Chinese mission to the UN didn’t respond to a telephone message requesting comment.
About 20 U.S. military personnel were planning to participate in today’s drills. Residents, local officials and journalists on the island were ordered to underground shelters, the Associated Press reported from Yeonpyeong.
The U.S. and South Korea were using civilians as “a human shield,” KCNA said, repeating an accusation the official North Korean agency made following the deaths of two civilians in last month’s bombardment. The attack, which also killed two soldiers, was the first shelling of South Korean soil since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a cease-fire with no peace treaty.
Crossing the Border
South Korea’s Unification Ministry today banned workers from crossing the border and entering the Gaesong industrial park in North Korea because of security concerns, ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong Joo said by phone. The government hasn’t decided whether to rescind the ban tomorrow, Lee said.
Russia requested the emergency UN meeting, saying the Security Council “must send a restraining signal” to both countries. Vitaly Churkin, the country’s ambassador to the UN, said Russia wanted the UN secretary general to appoint a special envoy to Korea.
“We have a situation of very serious political tension and no game plan on the diplomatic side,” Churkin told reporters in New York after the meeting. “It’s better to refrain from doing these exercises.”
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