Tue, Dec 07, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Korean tensions could spiral out of control: Hu

PHONE CALL:Barack Obama urged Hu Jintao to send a clear message to Pyongyang. South Korea began live-fire drills, while US and Japanese forces staged dogfight drills

Reuters and AFP, BEIJING, SEOUL and YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan

The Japan Maritime Self Defence Force destroyer Ikazuchi sails alongside the USS George Washington during the Keen Sword 2011 US-Japanese military maneuvres in the Pacific Ocean yesterday.

Photo: Reuters/US Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday warned US President Barack Obama that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could spiral out of control if not dealt with properly, their first discussion on the issue since the North shelled the South nearly two weeks ago.

Analysts said Hu’s comments showed a greater sense of urgency in the Chinese leadership over the mounting tension and also an attempt to avoid to the perception that Beijing is siding with its ally Pyongyang to face off against the US, Japan and South Korea, whose foreign ministers were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss the North Korea situation.

The White House said Obama, in a telephone call with Hu, urged Beijing to work with the US and others to “send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable.”

China, the chair of stalled international nuclear talks with Pyongyang, is not invited to the US-Japan-South Korea talks in Washington. But the three are expected to discuss Beijing’s proposal for emergency regional talks on the crisis.

“The phone call itself could be an attempt to avoid the perception prior to the meeting between South Korea, the US and Japan, that it is those three countries on one side facing off against China and Russia on North Korea,” said Sun Zhe (孫哲), director of the Center for US China Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The conversation between Obama and Hu took place as South Korea started live-firing naval exercises, 13 days after the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island close to a disputed maritime demarcation line.

“Especially with the present situation, if not dealt with properly, tensions could well rise on the Korean Peninsula or spin out of control, which would not be in anyone’s interest,” Hu said, according to a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.

“The most pressing task at present is to calmly deal with the situation,” Hu said, according to the ministry’s Web site.

“We need an easing [of tensions], not a ratcheting up; dialogue, not confrontation; peace, not war,” Hu was quoted as telling Obama.

“China is gravely worried about the situation on the peninsula because if large-scale conflict were to erupt on its border, China would face enormous political and strategic problems,” said Shi Yinhong (石印紅), director of the Centre on American Studies at Renmin University.

“I can’t say it [the phone call] is China’s last desperate effort, but it does highlight China’s sense of urgency toward the situation.”

Earlier yesterday, South Korea started nationwide live-fire naval drills in disputed waters off the west coast, ignoring Pyongyang’s warnings that they showed Seoul was “hell-bent” on starting war.

The South’s military said the exercises were scheduled to take place at 29 locations around the peninsula, including the vicinity of the tense Northern Limit Line, but not near Yeonpyeong.

In related news, US and Japanese fighter jets staged dogfight drills over the Sea of Japan yesterday, as part of their biggest ever joint exercise.

A squadron of “friendly” forces including eight US F-16s and four Japanese F-15s engaged with eight Japanese aircraft labeled the “enemy” in an exercise simulating the protection of a US C130 Hercules military transport.

The aerial maneuver — in which the Hercules performed tight spiral turns and other stomach-churning evasive actions, once skimming 300m above sea level — was part of the eight-day “Keen Sword 2011” joint exercises.

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