Clinton Cites China Role on North Korea; Mullen Heads to Region

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said China plays a “special role” in urging North Korea to refrain from “provocative and belligerent” actions as the top U.S. military chief heads to the region to reinforce backing for allies.

China has “unique and strong ties with North Korea” and “has a special role to play to shape North Korea’s behavior,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference yesterday in Washington with Japan’s Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Sung Hwan.

The Obama administration’s steps to support allies Japan and South Korea include a visit this week from a U.S. delegation led by Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He will be accompanied by military officials as well as by top deputies from the State and Defense departments.

The U.S. is closing ranks with Japan and South Korea while pressing China, North Korea’s main ally, to become more active in helping stave off military escalation in the Korean peninsula. Tensions flared after North Korea’s Nov. 23 shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island killed four people.

Obama called Chinese President Hu Jintao on Dec. 5 to seek his help in conveying to North Korea that its actions are “unacceptable.” China has refused to back a bid by the U.S. and Japan in the United Nations Security Council to condemn North Korea’s latest provocations.

China, the host of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, on Nov. 28 proposed “emergency consultations” with negotiators from North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S. to defuse tensions.

‘Belligerent Behavior’

“We appreciate Beijing’s initiative to propose an emergency six-party gathering,” Clinton said yesterday. “However, we first need an appropriate basis for the resumption of talks. Any effort, of course, must start with North Korea ceasing all provocative and belligerent behavior.”

Mullen heads to South Korea today and will then travel to Tokyo to “enhance coordination on strategic deterrents,” Clinton said. A team of senior diplomats also will travel to Asia next week to “follow up” on today’s trilateral meetings, she said.

Kim, the South Korean foreign minister, said that he, Clinton and Maehara agreed that North Korea will “face severe consequences if it engages in further provocations.”

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

South Korean Drills

South Korea yesterday began drills that include live firing from ships into seas near Daecheong Island, close to a disputed maritime border. North Korea said the exercise will result in shells landing in its territorial waters.

The U.S. and South Korea last week conducted naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, between the peninsula and China.

China has contributed to efforts to curb North Korean aggression, Kim said. “However, we would like China to have a more clear stance in giving warning to North Korea,” he said through an interpreter. “We would like China to play a more important role.”

North Korea yesterday warned that the South risked “catastrophic consequences” with the exercises. The government “is so hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war that it is recklessly behaving bereft of reason,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.

‘Belligerent Behavior’

“We cannot rule out the possibility of more attacks and provocations from the North, given its recent belligerent behavior,” said Victor Cha, who holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The time between North Korean provocations seems to be shrinking significantly with each new incident.”

Obama “urged China to work with us and others to send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable,” the White House said in a statement. Hu said all sides need to be calm to prevent the situation from getting out of control, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

North Korea doesn’t recognize the western sea border demarcated by the UN after the Korean War and demands that it be redrawn to include Yeonpyeong and four nearby islands.

The conflict flared when North Korea fired artillery at the fishing community and military outpost in the first shelling of South Korean soil since the 1950-1953 war. It said it responded to provocation after South Korea fired into waters that both sides claim.

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