Nov 28, 2010

Tensions Grow In Korea Over US-South Joint Military Exercises

Considering the numerous issues that have been popping up on the Korean peninsula during the week, it must be of little surprise that my first news post is concerning the latest development.

The latest issue on the peninsula is the four day long 'naval war games', starting today in the Yellow Sea, between the US and South Korea. These war games include the use of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington and despite Seoul and the US insisting these exercises are both routine and pre-planned the North has called them an "unpardonable provocation" and threatened a "sea of fire" if any North Korean territory is violated.

As tensions reach an all-time high since the end of the Korean War in 1953 a senior official in Beijing has suggested emergency talks between representatives from Pyongyang and Seoul, China, the US, Russia and Japan, to take place early next month, to discuss major issues between the North And South. However, such talks seem unlikely to take place after North Korea walked out of similar talks two years ago and with Seoul insisting now is not the right time. Despite this, the mere suggestion of these talks from North Korea's only significant ally and the sole outside country with any effect on it's actions are very significant. They also work to highlight how serious the situation is as China has been previously criticised for not doing enough to control the North, more recently from the South's president Lee Myung-Bak who claimed China are not exerting enough pressure on North Korea and called for them to contribute to peace  in a "more objective, responsible" manner.

North Korea has also condemned the South over last weeks artillery fire on the island of Yeonpyeong which killed two soliders and two civilians and injured a further 18. The North has accused the South of using civilians as human shields around the island's military installations. North Korea described the civilian deaths as "regrettable" but blamed the South for placing residents on the island, which Pyongyang insists is North Korean territory. On the South Korean side however, is the view that these attacks, seen as the most serious single military incident since the end of the war, were unprovoked and have put South Korea on a footing for war. This is perhaps most illustrated in the words of the South Korean military commander, Major-General You Nak-jun, at a funeral for the marines killed in Yeonpyeong. The commander insisted "Our marine corps ... will carry out a hundred – or thousand-fold…" in retaliation of any further attacks, adding "We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea".

At the same time there were protests in Seoul demanding a tougher response. These protests included a demonstration by around 70 former special forces troops wearing white headbands, who confronted riot police with wooden batons and fire extinguishers in front of the defence ministry. Elsewhere, 1,000 marine veterans chanted slogans like "Time for retaliation. Let's hit the presidential palace in Pyongyang" as they burned North Korean flags and portraits of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and his son and eventual successor Kim Jong-un.

Unfortunately, these recent developments, along with the unexpected revelation by North Korea of an apparently ultra-modern uranium enrichment facility that could improve its ability to add to its nuclear weapons capability, make it clear that tensions will not decrease for a while, and from the threats being fired from both sides there could perhaps be a reignition of the Korean War after 57 years of somewhat peaceful relations.

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