North Korea threatens more attacks on South
North Korea threatened further attacks against the South on Thursday as tensions mounted on the Korean peninsular, with South Korea’s government facing angry calls at home to strike back at the rogue regime of Kim Jong-il.
“North Korea will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation, if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again," the North's official KCNA news agency said, quoting the country’s military.
The threat of further action two days after the North’s artillery batteries bombarded a South Korean island, killing four people and destroying 22 houses, in an act that was condemned around the world.
Although winning international plaudits for his calls for restraint over the attack, South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak, has been berated at home by South Korea’s media and even some members of his ruling party.
“Let me say a word about those bastards at the Blue House who advised the president to say the situation should be managed to avoid a full-blown war," the Korea Joongang Daily quoted ruling party law-maker Hong Sa-duk as saying. “They must all be fired for advising the president to have such a weak response.”
Although the South has grown somewhat inured to provocations from the North – last March a South Korean warship the Cheonan was sunk with the loss of 46 lives in an apparent North Korean torpedo attack – an attack on South Korea’s own territory has stirred stronger feelings.
Mr Lee’s government, which has threatened missile-strikes if North Korea attacks again, responded to public pressure by announcing it would strengthen the garrisons on five outlying islands near its border with the North.
As the outcry against the North grew in Seoul, the international divisions between the US and China over how to handle the North Korean crisis showed no signs of abating.
Washington has already announced the deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier battle-group to the Yellow Sea for joint exercises with South Korea this weekend in a show of force that has enraged Pyongyang and defied Beijing’s calls for a swift return to the negotiating table.
China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, on a trip to Russia, again called for a resumption of the Six Party disarmament talks, a move that the US and its allies have said is impossible until North Korea ceases its belligerence and makes serious entreaties over nuclear disarmament.
“China is firmly committed to maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and opposes any provocative military acts,” Mr Wen said, without making clear whether he was referring to the North Korean bombardment, the US carrier deployment or South Korea war games earlier in the week that the North said had provoked their attack – or all three.
The US has made no secret that it wants China, as the North’s only international ally, to use its economic and political clout to force Pyongyang to curb the excesses of the regime of the ailing Kim Jong-il.
The North is currently in the middle of a leadership transition that will hand power to his youngest son, the inexperienced 26-year-old Kim Jong-un who, according to speculation in South Korea, may have personally ordered the bombardment to bolster his standing having recently been appointed as a major-general.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington was working with allies on ways to respond to the attack, adding: “It's very important for China to lead.”
Analysts however remain sceptical that China, which argues that the US stance risks further destabilizing North Korea, will diverge significantly from its current policies towards Pyongyang.
Peter Beck, a North Korea expert with the US think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “In the wake of the Cheonan sinking, Beijing showed us that they are more than willing to put up with Pyongyang's worst behaviour
“Given that this incident brings us closer to the brink of war than the Cheonan, Beijing might conclude that enough is enough and quietly put their foot down, but I am not holding my breath.”