China moves in response to Yeonpyeong attack

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China moves in response to Yeonpyeong attack

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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, meets Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo at the Blue House in Seoul, yesterday. [YONHAP]


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo yesterday that China needs to be more responsible in dealing with the two Koreas, according to the Blue House.

Lee met with Dai at the presidential office and also told the representative from Beijing that South Korea will no longer tolerate North Korean provocations, the Blue House said.

Lee’s meeting with Dai came as China is under mounting international pressure to help contain heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, after North Korea, its longtime ally, attacked Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday.

During more than two hours of meetings with Dai, Lee called on China “to contribute to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula with a more fair and responsible attitude in its relations with South and North Korea,” Hong Sang-pyo, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, told reporters.

Dai, conveying China’s condolences for the South Koreans who died in the attack, told Lee that China would work toward keeping the situation from worsening, Hong said.

Dai also expressed hope that there would be strengthened strategic communication between China and South Korea to ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Four South Koreans, including two civilians, were killed after the North fired about 170 artillery shells toward Yeonpyeong Island near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, the first attack targeting South Korean civilians since the Korean War.

A South Korea-U.S. joint naval drill, which began yesterday, was reconfigured in response to the North Korean attack. The two countries started the four-day run in the Yellow Sea yesterday.

“South Korea has put up with incessant provocations from North Korea since the Korean War, but if North Korea provokes any more, we will deal with it strongly,” the Blue House quoted Lee during the meeting with Dai.

Lee called the North’s attack on South Korean civilians, in the wake of its revelation of uranium enrichment programs, a “grave shift of course.”

Dai’s visit to Seoul was arranged suddenly after Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi canceled his Friday trip to Seoul. Some observers said Dai’s trip shows China’s sense of urgency over international calls for China to show some responsibility to resolve the Yeonpyeong incident. Dai, who the Blue House called a “special envoy of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao,” is ranked higher than Yang in the Chinese leadership hierarchy.

As part of its reaction, China’s Foreign Ministry called a special media briefing yesterday and suggested a meeting next month among envoys to the stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization.

China has long suggested the resumption of the six-party talks as a solution to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Dai also proposed resuming six-party talks in conversations with Lee yesterday, according to the Blue House. South Korea is not interested in the talks for the sake of talking, said a Blue House official.

Meanwhile, according to the Chinese state Xinhua News Agency, Yang summoned Ji Jae-ryong, the North Korean ambassador to Beijing, on Friday, for the first time since the attack by the North. Yang reportedly expressed China’s concern.

A day later, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency commented on the deaths of South Korean civilians, the first time it did so since Tuesday’s shelling, which it claimed was self-defense against South Korea’s military exercises that were being conducted at the time.

“If civilian casualties resulted from the Yeonpyeong Island shelling, it is such a regrettable occasion,” it said.

The KCNA, however, blamed South Korea for the deaths, saying it used civilians “human shields.”

But some observers had doubts about the outcome of such Chinese moves, saying they are not that different from its strategic passiveness in dealing with North Korean provocations, including the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March.

“China is repeating its stance in principle. There is nothing new,” said a government official after the meeting between Lee and Dai yesterday.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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