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The Hankyoreh, South Korea

Ball is in U.S.-China Court After North Korean Barrage


"With this latest incident, the Korean Peninsula has plunged into a crisis so murky that it's impossible to see what lies ahead. … The problem is that given the situation, stability is unlikely to emerge from inter-Korean relations. For this reason, attention is focusing on the response from Washington and Beijing."


By Son Won-je


November 24, 2010


South Korea - The Hankyoreh - Original Article (English)

North Korea’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday was a high-stakes military provocation unprecedented since the Korean War Armistice was signed [1954]. Unlike previous military clashes, South Korean civilians and their homes were subjected to an indiscriminate attack.


For now, North Korea is blaming South Korean military exercises as the rationale for its attack. On Tuesday morning, Pyongyang sent a message to South Korea criticizing the exercises as "effectively, an attack on North Korea."


The Hoguk Exercise in question involves 70,000 South Korean troops, 600 tanks and armored personnel carriers, 90 helicopters, 50 warships and 500 aircraft. The U.S. military is contributing the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Seventh Air Force. Pyongyang regards these exercises as part of training for an attack, citing the fact that these large-scale, joint South Korea-U.S. exercises encompass naval fleets, air forces and land exercises.


A former South Korean admiral with experience as a squadron leader near the West Sea Northern Limit Line said that Yeonpyeong Island "was probably chosen as the site of the attack because it's the closest land mass to the North Korea coast, allowing for easy firing and high precision." He added, "Given that civilian homes were deliberately targeted, this cannot be viewed as a simple response to the defense exercises."




Analysts suggest that this change in the North's military behavior stems from the urgent situation within North Korea. Professor Kim Yeon-su of the Korea National Defense University said, "It's possible that North Korea has adopted this pattern of provocation and has ratcheted up the sense of crisis on the Korean Peninsula due to problems with its process of leadership succession."


In other words, North Korea may have sensed a need to issue a high-intensity global and domestic shock in order to overcome the immense challenges with the process of succession.


Observers predict that the attack will have the effect of creating solidarity for the Kim Jong-un system, which emphasizes a Songun [self-reliance], military first domestic policy. This analysis suggests that the recent attack may be an attempt by North Korean authorities to create the belief that amid a military confrontation with South Korea, there is no alternative to the Kim Jong-un succession, which is carrying on with the Kim Jong-il Songun policy it is inheriting.


Another possibility suggested by analysts is that the attack was mounted to promote and strengthen Kim Jong-un’s leadership by effecting changes to the policies of Washington and Seoul.


But the prevailing view is that the attack, coming just after a uranium enrichment facility was revealed to an American expert visiting North Korea, carried a political message meant to "highlight the seriousness of the political situation on the Peninsula."


One expert, who requested anonymity, said, "North Korea’s recent actions may in some respects be aimed at forming an environment favorable to negotiations in the long term, but which, at least in the short term, suggest strongly that Pyongyang isn't going to dwell on negotiations."


Another possibility is that the move was based on a calculation that if North Korea ratchets up the crisis index on the Peninsula, in order to manage the situation, the United States would be inevitably compelled to pursue talks with Pyongyang. Despite North Korea’s recent "dialogue offensive," Seoul has maintained that a resumption of large-scale aid and tourism at Mount Kumgang remains out of the question.


"Since the recent charm offensive spearheaded by the Korea Worker's Party United Front Department failed, it may be that North Korea is trying to spark a conflict within South Korea by using shock treatment to shake up society in the South, thus pressuring Seoul into taking part in a dialogue," said an expert at a state-run think tank.


With this latest incident, the Korean Peninsula has plunged into a crisis so murky that it's impossible to see what lies ahead. While the sudden revelation of a new uranium enrichment facility is likely to have more of a negative impact on Northeast Asia in general than on inter-Korean relations, Tuesday’s artillery barrage on and around Yeonpyeong Island is a disaster. It will deal a harsh blow to already-strained inter-Korean relations.




JoongAng Ilbo, South Korea: It's Time to 'Retaliate' Against North Korea
Global Times, China: Dialogue of Artillery is a 'Tragedy' for Northeast Asia
Korea Times, South Korea: Military Hardliners Likely Behind Attack
Chosun Ilbo: China Must Act Now on North Korea Nuclear Threat
Dong-A Ilbo, South Korea: Island Panicked by Surprise Attack
Daily North Korea, South Korea: North Seeks to Shift Blame Onto South
Yonhap, South Korea: U.N. Command Seeks Talks with N. Korea  


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At least in the short term, inter-Korean relations seem fated to deteriorate to new lows. Inter-Korean meetings and dialogue, including talks with the Red Cross, and on again - off again reunions of families separated by the Korean War, hang by a thread. 



The problem is that given the situation, stability is unlikely to emerge from inter-Korean relations. For this reason, attention is focusing on the response from Washington and Beijing.


"For the Obama Administration, it is no longer possible to maintain its policy of "strategic patience" toward North Korea," said Professor Kim Yeon-chul of Inje University. "We must present some kind of countermeasure - and the direction Washington takes in response is key."


Another expert who spoke on condition of anonymity noted, "Beijing has expressed its displeasure with the North Korea policy of the Lee Myung-bak Administration and its one-sided focus on the United States."


The expert went on to say, "We'll have to wait to see how active China's response turns out to be."


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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US November 25, 2:12am]


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