US Defense Secretary Robert Gates greets local Marines as he departs the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on Sunday after the Asia Security Summit. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press
China expert says all parties should stay calm and avoid actions that would lead to bigger conflict
BEIJING - Pyongyang said over the weekend that sanctions cannot block the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) steps toward prosperity, while a US official urged all Asian nations to stick together to deal with the country's "provocations."
Chinese experts predicted that China will not be stirred up by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' words at a security conference in Singapore on Saturday, that the Asian states' "collective responsibility" should address Pyongyang's "provocations".
After Gates' speech, Rodong Sinmun, the DPRK's official newspaper, carried a report of the country's top leader, Kim Jong-il, inspecting a chemical compound and saying that it's time for the nation to "powerfully demonstrate the heroic spirit of the Korean people".
On the same day, the Yonhap news agency of the Republic of Korea (ROK) cited unnamed government sources saying Seoul is considering sending a high-level envoy to Beijing soon to secure its backing at the Security Council over the sinking of its warship Cheonan in March. Seoul accuses Pyongyang of being the culprit, citing evidence of a torpedo believed to be made in the DPRK, and has officially forwarded the case to the United Nations.
The US stands firmly behind the ROK on the Cheonan incident, and has said it is weighing new options beyond the UN to punish the DPRK. "At the same time, we are assessing additional options to hold North Korea accountable," Gates said.
"China should not feel pressured by Gates' statements. We only want all parties to calm down first, because any thoughtless move now may trigger a bigger clash," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at Tsinghua University.
The situation in the Korea Peninsula is now at a turning point, Liu said. "This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War (1950-53). Now, the two countries may either repeat the past, or keep a clear head and create favorable conditions for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks."
Liu also added that the development of the Cheonan incident may also lead to a more shaky political environment as already seen in the ROK.
Pyongyang denies responsibility for the warship sinking and accused ROK's president Lee Myung-bak of staging the incident to help his chances in local elections. On Friday Lee said his country formally referred the sinking case to the UN Security Council, the first time Seoul has taken Pyongyang to the council for an inter-Korean provocation.
Neither China nor Russia has agreed with the US and ROK on the cause of the sinking. China has repeatedly called for calm from all parties, while Moscow has sent its own investigation team. No result has been announced yet.
In the face of worsening relations on the peninsula, Seoul has tried to control the tension. On the US side, diplomats said that in talks with Asian leaders, Gates and other officials had made it very clear their goal is to avoid an escalation.
On Friday the DPRK's Korea Central News Agency said that the US- and ROK- led investigation result is "a sheer fabrication", arguing that its own inspection group should not have been blocked if there was nothing to hide.
It also warned of the possibility of "the toughest retaliation the DPRK will take as it did in the past", and that if UN officials let the "unilateral" finding of the US and ROK rule, they are then to blame for blocking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and sparking new conflicts.
Agencies contributed to the story
(China Daily 06/07/2010 page11)