- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 8, 2010

SEOUL | The top U.S. military officer expressed frustration Wednesday with what he called China’s unwillingness to rein in North Korea, calling again on Beijing to use its unique leverage to push the North to stop provocations.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the U.S. commitment to South Korea’s defense, saying the alliance remained unquestioned and denouncing North Korea’s aggression, including an artillery attack last month that killed four South Koreans, as “belligerent, reckless behavior.”

Adm. Mullen’s remarks reflect a two-pronged approach by South Korea, the U.S. and Japan: On the one hand, they are threatening the North with quick and merciless retaliation if it attacks again; on the other, they are seeking a diplomatic way out and mostly seem to be hoping China will provide it.

Beijing is the North’s only major ally and an important source of aid. While China repeatedly has called for calm and negotiations in the wake of the shelling, its leaders have long been unwilling to push the North too far for fear the government could buckle, sending a stream of refugees across their shared border.

China has unique influence. Therefore, they bear unique responsibility,” Adm. Mullen said at a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Han Min-koo.

A North Korean soldier looks south from the border village of Panmunjom on Wednesday as the U.S. and South Korea discuss security. (Associated Press)
A North Korean soldier looks south from the border village of Panmunjom ... more >

But the Chinese “appear unwilling to use it,” he said. “Now is the time for Beijing to step up to that responsibility and help guide the North, and the entire region, toward a better future.”

Adm. Mullen warned that North Korea should not mistake South Korean restraint as a lack of resolve or “as willingness to accept continued attacks.”

“Your readiness to defend your territory and your citizens is unmistakable, and my country’s commitment to helping you do that is unquestioned,” Adm. Mullen said.

Asked about the South Korean defense minister’s vow to bomb North Korea should there be more attacks, Adm. Mullen said Seoul has “every right to protect its people and to respond as it sees fit.”

He said he didn’t ask South Korea to “take air options off the table.”

“The goal clearly is to have a deterrent effect so that all-out war never occurs,” Adm. Mullen said.

Adm. Mullen noted that with 46 sailors killed in the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, there have been “50 deaths by DPRK hands,” referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea has denied involvement in the ship’s sinking.

South Korea and the United States staged drills last week off the west coast of the peninsula in a show of force after North Korea’s Nov. 23 artillery barrage on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island near the Koreas’ disputed sea border.

While the officers met earlier Wednesday, North Korea staged apparent firing exercises.

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