Thursday, 2 December 2010

Trouble between the Koreas rumbles on

It has been just over a week since the most recent trouble between North and South Korea broke out, and the political posturing – and military manoeuvring – continues.

South Korea's intelligence chief is reported to have said they think that North Korea is very likely to attack again. Won Sei-hoon, director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, was quoted by South Korea's Yonhap news agency saying “There is a high possibility that the North will make another attack”.

It must be considered, however, whether Seoul would have to take some of the blame if the North did attack, as their actions, and those of their ally, the US, seem very provocative. The South Koreans are building up their defences on Yeonpyeong island, the site of the conflict, and the US has sent warships, fighter jets and more than 6,000 personnel to the area, where 70,000 South Korean troops are already present.

On 28th November, the US and South Korea began carrying out joint military exercises in the disputed area. Beijing has expressed its anger at the joint military exercises. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on 26th November, “We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue. We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission.

In July 2010, some 20 US warships and 200 planes carried out similar manoeuvres with the South Korean military in the waters bordering both North Korea and China, according to the International Action Center. The nuclear powered carrier, the USS George Washington, which carries 75 fighter jets and is currently in the Yellow Sea area, also took part in the July exercises. Beijing expressed their displeasure to the exercises at the time, and it must be asked why they need to carry out two major military exercises within such a short time frame.

Much of the Yellow Sea area is disputed by the two Koreas. A US-led UN team awarded it to South Korea following the 1950-53 Korean War, but North Korea has never acknowledged the boundary, known as the Northern Limit Line. It believes Yeonpyeong Island, and the waters surrounding it, to be North Korean territory.

The US and South Korea have also rejected China's calls for the resumption of the six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programme. The BBC suggests that Seoul and Washington are anxious to avoid the impression that bad behaviour from the North will be rewarded with talks or offers of aid.
Talks have been stalled since April 2009, but Pyongyang has recently expressed interest in restarting them. The US has said that talks cannot resume until North Korea apologises for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March, and stops further nuclear enrichment plants from operating. North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking of the corvette Cheonan.

Others in South Korea, however, have suggested the worst may be over. "There will be ongoing measures to beef up our forces including the stationing of new weapons, upgrading our marines on Yeonpyeong island but I think on this particular crisis we are reaching the apex and we will see a gradual de-escalation," Chung Min Lee, ambassador for international security affairs, is reported by the BBC to have said.

Sources: BBC News, International Action Center

For more information on North Korea and South Korea dispute, see the menas borders website.

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