China will not favour any side in North Korea dispute
BEIJING/SEOUL: China, which has refused to condemn North Korea's attack on a southern island, said on Wednesday it would not favor any side but wanted to help resolve the dispute as a "responsible great power."
China, North Korea's only powerful ally, protected Pyongyang from censure by the U.N. Security Council for last week's deadly bombardment of Yeonpyeong island, an attack many analysts believe was an attempt to force the resumption of international negotiations that could bring it aid.
"Our general goal is for all sides to exercise calm and restraint and to make every effort to avoid such incidents recurring," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said as South Korea planned further military drills for next week after U.S. warships leave on Wednesday.
"Since the exchange of fire between North and South Korea, China has made a series of efforts to prevent the situation from escalating and deteriorating. China decides its position based on the merits of each case and does not seek to protect any side," Yang said.
Yang spoke as Chen Zhili, vice-chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, met a delegation from North Korea. China wants to hold an emergency meeting of the six regional powers, but the proposal has met with a lukewarm response.
South Korea is planning further artillery drills, "including waters close to the Yellow Sea border (with the North)" starting on Monday, Yonhap said. The Defense Ministry would not comment on the report. Such drills are common and the exercise would be west of Yeonpyeong, Yonhap said.
The plan was to "beef up its defense readiness posture against any possible additional provocations by North Korea," the news agency said, quoting officials.
As the nuclear-powered USS George Washington headed out of Korean waters back to Japan, oil traders said the U.S. Navy was seeking a mediumrange oil tanker to move at least 30,000 tons of jet fuel from Japan to South Korea, suggesting it was stockpiling. The route is unusual for jet fuel, but a U.S. military official said such shipments were standard for operational use.
Nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North, having only signed a truce to end fighting in the 1950-53 war.
An attempt by France and Britain to push the U.N. Security Council to condemn North Korea's nuclear program and the attack on Yeonpyeong was on the verge of collapse because of China's unwillingness to apportion blame, envoys said. The reason for the virtual breakdown of talks on two Security Council statements to rebuke Pyongyang was China's demand for removal of words such as "condemn" and "violation." The United States and South Korea are pressing China, which has not blamed North Korea for the island attack or for the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, to do more to rein in its ally. President Lee Myung-bak, widely criticized at home for a perceived weak response to the attack, has twice warned that any further provocation would be met with force.
Outgoing Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers on Tuesday that there was an "ample possibility" the North may stage another provocation after the joint maneuvers end. -Reuters