A top U.S. military figure called on Wednesday for China to “step up” its efforts to contain fallout from a North Korean artillery attack on the South, as diplomats from South Korea, Japan, and the United States prepare to hold talks on the crisis.
China, North Korea’s major ally and source of aid, is “uniquely placed to guide North Korea to a less dangerous place,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told a forum in Washington.
“There is significant leverage they could apply to avoid escalation and improving this troubling situation,” Mullen said.
"We need China to step up on an issue, and in a region, that directly affects its national security interests."
On Nov. 23, North Korea launched an artillery attack on a South Korean border island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians and prompting a joint U.S.-South Korea military exercise in the Yellow Sea as a first response to the shelling.
Mullen, in interviews at the time with U.S. television networks, said that the exercise—which included the visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to the region—had been planned long before but was meant to send a “strong signal of deterrence.”
The four-day drill ended Wednesday without incident even though North Korea had warned it brought the peninsula to "the brink of war."
‘No substitute’ for action
Speaking in Washington at the Center for American Progress on Dec. 1, Mullen said that a U.S. return to six-party talks, urged by China and including North Korea, would have to be decided by U.S. political leaders.
“[But] Beijing’s call for consultations will not substitute for action. I do not believe we should continue to reward North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing behavior with bargaining or new incentives,” he said.
“China shares a relationship with the North that is not matched anywhere else in the world,” Mullen said.
“It’s going to come out of Beijing that this thing gets taken to a level where we can figure out how to contain [North Korea’s] reckless behavior and move ahead.”
China and the United States share an interest in stability on the Korean peninsula, Mullen said.
Diplomats to meet
Meanwhile, the State Department announced that top U.S., South Korean, and Japanese diplomats would meet in Washington on Dec. 6 “to discuss the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and their impact on regional security, as well as other regional and global issues.”
Set to meet in the Trilateral Ministerial are U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.
The planned meeting “demonstrates the extraordinarily close coordination between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan and our commitment to security on the Korean Peninsula and stability in the region,” the State Department said.
Diplomatic efforts on the situation in the Korean peninsula were also going on elsewhere, with officials from North Korea and Japan visiting Beijing.
China's top foreign policy official Dai Bingguo is also expected to visit North Korea this week, with Russia's deputy nuclear envoy headed for Seoul.
Reported in Washington by Richard Finney.