South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has vowed to make North Korea “pay the price” for its “inhumane” artillery attack on a frontline island that killed four people and sparked global outrage.
Lee had come under pressure to take a tougher line against Pyongyang after his military’s counter-fire following North Korea’s deadly artillery strike on a border island last week was seen as feeble. “I can’t help expressing anger at the North Korean regime’s brutality,” he said in a nationally televised address.
“Now our people know that any more tolerance and patience will only fan bigger provocations,” he said of the regime that has previously tested nuclear bombs and is blamed for sinking a South Korean warship, killing 46 people. But North Korean state media also issued terse warnings as the war of words on the divided peninsula escalated dramatically.
North Korean state media called a joint US-South Korean naval drill in the Yellow Sea a “grave provocation” and a “crime” which had brought the region to “the brink of war”.
The US and South Korean navies are staging their biggest-ever joint exercise, a show of force against North Korea which last week launched an artillery strike on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island, killing four people.
The four-day manoeuvre – which Washington calls defensive in nature but says is aimed as a show of force to the hardline communist regime – is led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency – carrying an editorial in the Rodong Sinmun, the official ruling Workers’ Party of Korea newspaper – called the exercise “another grave military provocation against us by America and the South Korean enemies”.
“It’s a crime for South Korea and the United States to hold large-scale military exercises at this critical location to lead the situation to an explosive stage.” “The Yellow Sea is at the brink of war because of their military provocations,” it added. “It’s a huge mistake if the US and South Korean enemies try to pressure and threaten us” with the US carrier, it added.
“If they provoke us again we will wipe out the bases for invaders and will root out the source of war.” The North’s chief ally China called Sunday for “emergency consultations” on the crisis early next month among chief envoys to stalled six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear disarmament.
South Korea’s Lee, in his seven-minute speech, made no reference to China’s proposal but said it was “difficult to expect the North to abandon nuclear weapons and military brinkmanship”.
South Koreans now know “that any more tolerance and patience will only fan bigger provocations”, he said.
“The North’s provocation this time is in a different level than before,” Lee said. “Making a military attack on civilians is an inhumane crime banned even during wartime. “Now is the time to take actions rather than speaking 100 words,” he said without elaborating on what he would do. The South’s military said today’s joint naval drills, far south of the tense Yellow Sea border, would focus on defence against the North’s submarines and guided missiles.
“Monday’s drills include a live-fire exercise by multiple aircraft from the (US aircraft carrier) George Washington, which will shoot mock targets in waters,” a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Aegis-class destroyers would hone their capabilities to detect and destroy “hundreds of targets” in the sky, he said.
Eleven ships from the two navies plus aircraft and helicopters and more than 7,000 personnel are taking part in the four-day drill which began Sunday.