The North Korean government accused Seoul of being hell-bent on moves to escalate the confrontation.
The latest South Korean maneuvers are taking place at 29 locations, including 16 in the Yellow Sea between the Korean Peninsula and China. The rest of the sites are in the South Sea and the East Sea between Korea and Japan and are scheduled to last until December 12. The South Korean government warned ships to avoid the areas.
On November 23 South Korean forces based on the island of Yeonpyeong, just seven miles from the North Korean coast, exchanged artillery fire with North Korean troops. The South Korean government had been firing test shots in the waters around the island.
After the signing of a cease-fire in 1953 that marked the end of the Korean War, Washington drew what is known as the Northern Limit Line. As part of the line, Washington claimed that parts of the Yellow Sea (also known as the East China Sea) as little as three miles off the North Korean coast were part of South Korean territory. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea in the North never agreed to this division line or to the permanent division of Korea. Most governments in the world assert their sovereignty for 12 miles from their coasts.
The latest South Korean exercises overlap with one week of joint U.S.-Japanese maneuvers, which began December 3. Possibly the largest-ever joint military maneuvers between these countries, they involve 400 aircraft, 60 warships, more than 40,000 Japanese and U.S. soldiers, and South Korean observers. Among the ships is the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. After the artillery exchange at Yeonpyeong Island the aircraft carrier sailed though the Yellow Sea in a show of force backing the South Korean military before rounding the peninsula to join the U.S.-Japanese exercises.
A high-ranking U.S. military officer told the Washington Post that the aircraft carriers route through the Yellow Sea was aimed not just at North Korea, but at China, which has previously objected to U.S. military exercises so close to the Chinese mainland. Call it a message, he said, but we believe in the freedom of navigation.
While flaunting Washingtons military might in the Yellow Sea, the Barack Obama administration has also accused Beijing of enabling North Korea to start a uranium-enrichment program, which the White House claims is provocative.
In what the New York Times called a sign of mounting tension between the United States and China over North Korea, Obama telephoned Chinese president Hu Jintao December 5 to demand that Beijing back U.S. pressure on Pyongyang.
Beijing instead has called for the renewal of six-party talks, with government representatives from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, and North Korea, to calm down tensions in the region.
After meeting in Washington, D.C., December 6 with foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton rejected the Chinese proposal and demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear program.
While Washington and Seoul are intensifying actions that could lead to further military confrontations, many in South Korea are opposed. A recent poll, for example, showed that 43 percent of junior and senior high school students believe that pointless South Korean military exercises caused the artillery exchange at Yeonpyeong Island, and that the exchange was begun by the South Korean military.
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