US, South Korea to hold war games Sunday amid tension

Thursday, November 25, 2010

BEIJING/WASHINGTON - Chinese experts have warned that tensions could escalate on the Korean peninsula if a joint US-South Korea military drill in the Yellow Sea, announced a day after North Korea shelled an island near the disputed border with South Korea, goes ahead, a media report said Thursday.

In their first joint response to the attack, US President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak agreed to hold the war games.

The four-day joint exercise will start Sunday in the Yellow Sea, and involve a naval strike group spearheaded by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

The carrier, with 75 warplanes and a crew of more than 6,000, left a naval base south of Tokyo Wednesday.

Though the Chinese government has yet to respond to the decision, Chinese experts warned the war games may escalate tension on the Korean peninsula, China Daily reports.

The toll from the latest skirmish Tuesday rose to four Wednesday after South Korean coast guards found two bodies of elderly men under the ruins of the shattered homes after the artillery barrage on the Yeonpyeong island. Two South Korean marines were confirmed dead Tuesday and 18 people were injured in the attack.

North Korea has accused South Korea, which was conducting military drills off its western coast Tuesday, of firing first. Seoul said the drill was not aimed at North Korea.

China has urged both the countries to engage in talks to avoid similar incidents, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.

“China pays close attention to the incident. We regret the casualties and property losses, and are concerned about the situation,” Hong said.

“We strongly urge both sides to remain calm and show restraint,” he added.

A White House statement said Obama telephoned Lee to declare that the US “stands shoulder to shoulder” with South Korea, which is home to 28,500 US troops.

It said the drill was planned well before Tuesday’s events but it demonstrated the US “commitment to regional stability through deterrence”.

What is of greater concern to Beijing is that the war games could antagonize Pyongyang, said Liu Jiangyong, an expert on East Asia studies with Tsinghua University.

“The repeated military drills have contributed to the tensions. Military exercises result in Pyongyang worrying about being harmed accidentally or intentionally,” he said.

Seoul after Tuesday’s attack said it was suspending promised food aid to Pyongyang. It said it will deploy more artillery in Yeonpyeong. At least 700 people have fled the island, home to over 1,500 civilians and a permanent military base.

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