China Decries Naval Drills as Obstacle to Easing Korea Tensions

China criticized planned military exercises by more than 40,000 Japanese and U.S. troops as an obstacle to easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, and reiterated its call for increased diplomatic efforts.

“Brandishing of force cannot solve the issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular briefing in Beijing today. “Some are playing with knives and guns while China is criticized for calling for dialogue, is that fair?”

The maneuvers are the latest show of deterrence following North Korea’s Nov. 23 shelling of a South Korean island that killed four people. Japan and the U.S. joined South Korea in condemning the attack, rejecting China’s call for talks and urging the government in Beijing to rein in its ally.

South Korea will send military observers to the drills for the first time, in a signal that North Korea’s provocations are tightening U.S. military and political alliances in the region.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said South Korea’s participation was “an important point from the perspective of promoting cooperation among the three countries.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will host Japan’s Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and South Korean counterpart Kim Sung Hwan on Dec. 6 to discuss regional security.

The week-long exercise beginning tomorrow has no link to any “existing or perceived political or geographical situation, nor is it directed at any nation,” U.S. Lt. Colonel Kenneth Hoffman, an Air Force spokesman, said in an e-mailed message.

George Washington

Fresh from maneuvers in the Yellow Sea with South Korea’s navy, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington will join a force of about 400 aircraft and 60 warships. Drills will include responding to ballistic missile attacks on Pacific islands, the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces said in a statement.

China’s ties with North Korea “have witnessed significant progress this year,” Wu Bangguo, a member of the standing committee of China’s Politburo, said yesterday, according to a statement on the website of the Communist Party. Wu pledged to strengthen those links in his third meeting this year with Choe Tae Bok, a key aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

China has “much influence and therefore much responsibility,” Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a forum of the Center for American Progress in Washington yesterday. “We need China to step up.”

Stalled Negotiations

Chinese opposition has stalled United Nations Security Council negotiations condemning the shelling and North Korea’s expanding nuclear program.

Wang Jiarui, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, which helps carry out the country’s policy toward North Korea, yesterday met Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in Washington, Xinhua News Agency reported.

North Korea last week confirmed it has a uranium-enrichment facility with thousands of centrifuges, which it said was intended for civilian use. The country is under UN sanctions because of previous atomic tests and concerns it is developing nuclear weapons.

South Korean National Intelligence Director Won Sei-hoon yesterday told lawmakers that North Korea may be planning another attack, Yonhap News reported.

Artillery Drills

South Korea’s military may carry out further artillery drills next week similar to those that sparked the North Korean shelling, according to Yonhap News, which cited government officials it didn’t identify. An official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and another at the Defense Ministry said today that no decision has been made. Both requested anonymity, citing government policy.

The North said the shelling was a response to “military provocation” after the South fired into waters that it claims as its own. Two soldiers and two civilians died in the barrage, which shattered the windows in a school and torched houses in the fishing community and military base.

North Korea’s state-run news service said the government urged the South to call off exercises in the area and warned of a military response to infringement of its “inviolable territorial” waters. The North doesn’t recognize the maritime border laid out after the 1950-53 Korean War.

China on Nov. 28 proposed “emergency consultations” with negotiators from the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the U.S. to defuse tensions. Negotiations among the six countries aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program have been stalled since April 2009.

“The talks we’re proposing aren’t a formal meeting, so this shouldn’t be difficult for anyone,” Yu said, adding that Russia supported the proposal. “Only when dialogue begins can there be the possibility of solving problems.”

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