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“After all the skirmishes and provocations, the country should have had a contingency plan — a rudimentary strategy of supplementing military power with naval and air forces” in the front-line island area, Song Ho-keun, a professor at Seoul National University, wrote in the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

To ease tensions, China, which is North Korea’s only major ally, has pressed for an emergency meeting of the six nations that previously negotiated over Pyongyang’s nuclear program: the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.

After walking away from the six-nation talks in April 2009, North Korea has shown it is eager to restart them to gain much-needed fuel oil and aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament. But Washington, Tokyo and Seoul are wary of talking with the North, and their top diplomats planned to meet in Washington on Monday to plot a strategy on dealing with the country.

Although it won’t be part of that meeting, China said Thursday it would keep a “close watch” on the talks and sounded upbeat about what they could achieve.

“As the situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complicated and sensitive, we expect the meeting to ease tensions and promote dialogue, rather than heighten tensions and intensify confrontation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

She said she also hoped the three countries would give “positive consideration” to China’s proposal for emergency consultations among the participants in the six-party talks. Earlier Thursday, Ms. Jiang said Russia had expressed interest.

On resumption of the nuclear negotiations, Seoul says North Korea must show real commitment to disarm. It has noted Pyongyang has gone in the wrong direction with its revelation last month of a new uranium enrichment facility that would give it a second way to make nuclear bombs.

During Mr. Lee’s administration, Kim Jong-il has boosted his nuclear and missile capabilities, stoked military tensions and threatened to sever economic ties, oblivious to the South Korean leader’s vows to get tough.

When Mr. Lee, a conservative former Seoul mayor, came to power in February 2008, he rode a wave of frustration with the policies of his predecessor, the late Roh Moo-hyun.

Voters wanted Mr. Lee to use skills honed as a CEO to boost the economy, which many believed was mismanaged under the previous administration. Some, especially conservatives, were also critical of what they considered as support by the two previous liberal governments for Pyongyang and pursuit of high-profile joint industrial and tour projects without demanding concessions, such as progress on the nuclear issue, in return.

That “sunshine policy” was meant to encourage the North to become less antagonistic as economic, cultural and political relations warmed.

In sharp contrast, Mr. Lee linked economic aid to Pyongyang’s living up to its international commitments to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Under his administration, criticism of the North became more vocal.

His stance enraged the North, which branded Mr. Lee a “traitor” and “human scum.”

The shelling of tiny Yeonpyeong Island followed the March sinking of the South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. An international investigation led by Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo for the disaster, although Pyongyang denied involvement.

Besides dumping his defense minister after the island attack, Mr. Lee announced plans for new rules of engagement that call for stronger and more immediate military responses to aggression.

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