Mullen rebukes China for failing to curb North Korea


SEOUL and BEIJING — The most senior U.S. military official delivered a sharp rebuke to China on Wednesday, blaming Asia’s top power for failing to rein in its North Korean ally in the escalating dispute over the fate of the Korean peninsula.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blasted China for refusing to condemn North Korea over the Nov. 23 artillery barrage that killed four people on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. He spoke in Seoul, where he met with his South Korean counterpart in a public display of resolve to deter any North Korean aggression.

But Mullen directed some of his most pointed criticism at Beijing.

“The Chinese have enormous influence over the North,
influence that no other nation on earth enjoys,” said Mullen at a news
conference at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. “And yet,
despite a shared interest in reducing tensions, they appear unwilling
to use it.”

“Even tacit approval of Pyongyang’s brazenness leaves all their neighbors asking, ‘What will be next?'”

At the joint news conference Wednesday, Han Min-koo, South Korea’s
own top commander, said that rules of engagement are being strengthened
to allow commanders on the ground to fire back immediately in case of
another North Korean attack.

Geopolitical fault lines dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean War have re-emerged, with China standing staunchly behind North Korea and the United States and South Korea reaffirming the vows of their long, if occasionally troubled, alliance.

In a show of force designed to deter North Korea and remind China of the United States’ military might, the United States and South Korea have been staging war games in the Yellow Sea, much to Beijing’s irritation.

Tensions that had been repressed during seven years of six-nation talks over the fate of North Korea’s nuclear program — involving the U.S., China, Japan, Russia
and the two Koreas — have shot to the surface after the deadly
Yeonpyeong island incident. The South Korean government is furious that
held both Koreas equally culpable, an echo of its refusal to accept
evidence of North Korean guilt in the sinking earlier this year of the
Cheonan, a South Korean military ship hit by a torpedo.

The Chinese also have refused to publicly condemn North Korea for an aggressive uranium enrichment program that could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

L. Gordon Flake, a Korea specialist with the Mansfield Foundation, said there is no expectation that Beijing
should cut off relations with the ally for which it sent 3 million
soldiers to fight during the Korean War. But he argues that Chinese
backing for North Korean adventurism should not be unconditional.

“It is not just that China is turning a blind eye to what North Korea is doing, they are enabling North Korea,” Flake said. “China’s overt support for North Korea is blunting the effectiveness of diplomatic measures to curb their behavior.”

The Chinese response to the artillery exchange two weeks ago has been to call on the other five nations to resume talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. Beijing also criticized the joint U.S.-South Korea naval exercises that were held in the Yellow Sea last week as a demonstration of alliance solidarity.

But the Obama administration has been open about the need for China to play a stronger diplomatic role in trying to reduce regional tensions.

On Sunday, Obama spoke by phone with Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging him to act to restrain North Korean behavior.

And on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Washington to signal their unity on the confrontation.

In Beijing, the nationalist Global Times, which has close ties to the ruling Communist Party, ridiculed the meeting.

“The trilateral foreign minister meeting won’t change the fact that South Korea and Japan both enjoy China as their biggest trading partner,” the newspaper editorialized.

In a separate piece, it added, “What the three foreign ministers of the U.S., Japan and South Korea want most is tough words from China on North Korea. This time the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s comment is worth a fortune. However, China won’t do it.”

The U.S. administration has also signaled that it is
not ready to return to the previous diplomatic path of the six-party
talks, a position Mullen reiterated Wednesday.

“We first need an appropriate basis for the resumption of talks,” he said. “There is none so long as North Korea
persists in its illegal, ill-advised and dangerous behavior. I do not
believe we should continue to reward that behavior with bargaining or
new incentives.”


(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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