Easing of tension possible

By Shi Yuanhua
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, November 29, 2010
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On Nov 23, a deadly exchange of artillery fire between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) shocked the world. With both sides accusing the other of initiating the attack, tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated alarmingly.

The root cause of the skirmish is the long-term inter-Korean mutual military deterrence. In the later half of this year, tensions on the Korean Peninsula were still strained following the sinking of the Cheonan. The US and the ROK refused to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang and held a series of joint military drills.

In responding to the hard-line policy of the US and the ROK, the DPRK took an even tougher approach and threatened to wage war against the ROK.

This build-up in tension has resulted in the current exchange of fire and it seems that the confrontation might escalate.

Pyongyang is taking a hard-line stance, saying that if ROK forces dare to encroach on even one inch of its territorial sea, it will launch military attacks without hesitation.

More worringly, prior to the current hostilities Pyongyang opened its new uranium enrichment plant to an American scientist, challenging Washington's policy toward DPRK, and the ROK's hawkish defense minister has suggested that Seoul might consider asking the US to redeploy nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from the country in 1991. The USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group has joined the ROK's naval forces for joint exercises at the Yellow Sea area.

The US-led Western support for the ROK and continual condemnation of the DPRK will only fan the flames of conflict.

Meanwhile, there have been loud calls from the West for Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

But, due to the high complexity of the Korean Peninsula issue, China, as a responsible power in Northeast Asia, can only act as a mediator between the DPRK and the ROK. Beijing will try to persuade Pyongyang to exercise restraint and stop its military operations, and will talk Seoul into stopping military deterrence and confrontation.

However, under the threat of frequent large-scale US-ROK military exercises, it is hard to imagine that Pyongyang will accept Beijing's advice. The most important factor in defusing tensions is for the US-ROK joint military drills to cease.

To resolve the current crisis concerted efforts should be made to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The two sides should exercise calm and restraint and stop confrontational actions. They should resume contacts and dialogue as soon as possible.

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