South Korea defence chief quits

Move follows criticism about slow response to Norths artillery attacks

An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 landing on the deck of the USS George Washington in the Pacific Ocean after leaving the US Naval base at the Japanese port of Yokosuka. The US and South Korea announced a joint naval show of force including the George Washington to deter the North, which killed a total of four people in its first shelling attack on civilians since the 1950-53 war. AFP

Kim Tae-young became the first political victim of the attack as China expressed muted criticism of forthcoming joint US-south Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea.
President Lee Myung-bak accepting his minister’s resignation “to improve the atmosphere in the military and to handle the series of incidents”, a presidential official said.

Kim had also tended his resignation in May after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, but Lee asked him to stay on in the job. The Cheonan attack, in which 46 sailors were killed, was also blamed on the North.

North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong off the peninsula’s west coast on Tuesday, killing two civilians and two soldiers and destroying many houses.

South Korean troops fired back 13 minutes later, causing unknown damage. Members of Lee’s own party and opposition lawmakers accused the military of responding too slowly.
The government was also criticised for its perceived weak response to the Cheonan incident. North Korea has denied responsibility for that attack.

While China objected to the joint military exercises starting this weekend, North Korea threatened further attacks on the South if there were more “provocations”.

Seoul said it would increase troops on islands near North Korea after the bombardment, which caused a sharp spike in tension in the world’s fastest growing region.

US pressure on China

Washington is putting increasing pressure on China to rein in North Korea, but a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said what was needed was a revival of the stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the US.

“We have noted the relevant reports and express our concern about this,” spokesman Hong Lei said, referring to the joint military exercises and the involvement of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS George Washington in the drill. But Beijing has previously used stronger language to signal its displeasure. In August, the People’s Liberation Army said earlier plans to send the George Washington to the Yellow Sea would make it lose respect and threatened long-term damage to Sino-US relations.
Seoul expressed frustration with Beijing for not taking sides, noting even Russia had condemned this week’s attack.

“We must engage with China for it to take more responsibility on North Korea’s behaviour,” said a government official, who asked not to be identified.

China has long propped up the Pyongyang leadership, worried that a collapse of the North could bring instability to its own borders. Beijing is also wary of a unified Korea that would be dominated by the US.

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