- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2010

U.S. officials and lawmakers urged China on Sunday to take a bigger peacekeeping role on the Korean Peninsula and backed U.S. military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, which got under way Sunday after the deadly attack on a border island last week by North Korea.

On Sunday, China called for “emergency consultations” early next month in Beijing between the six nations participating in the stalled talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

But that wasn’t enough for several U.S. officials, who criticized China on the Sunday political talk shows for not acting more strongly against North Korea, which has virtually no source of foreign trade or support other than Beijing.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called the talks a “first step” but suggested that China use stronger economic measures against Pyongyang.

“Unfortunately, China is not behaving as a responsible world power,” he said. The Chinese “could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to. And I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not.”

Mr. McCain’s words were echoed by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’s hard to know why China doesn’t push harder,” Adm. Mullen said on CNN, though he added that while he hoped China could restrain North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, “I’m not sure he is controllable.”

China provided its first detailed response Sunday to the crisis in Korea, saying that the other nations in the six-party talks - China, Russia, Japan, the U.S., and the two Koreas - are deeply concerned.

“The Chinese side, after careful study, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present,” Wu Dawei, China’s top North Korea envoy, told reporters in Beijing.

Mr. Wu emphasized that, despite the six-party structure, the talks would not resume nuclear-issues negotiations, which North Korea walked out on in 2008. China’s official Xinhua News Agency also reported Sunday that the chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly will visit China on Tuesday.

Japan and South Korea both said Sunday they would study China’s proposal. The U.S. was similarly cautious, with a State Department spokesman telling reporters that “the six-party talks cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations” to abide by the Korean war armistice.

Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo met Sunday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul, while Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a Monday address to his nation, Mr. Lee said that North Korea would “pay the price” for its “inhumane” artillery attack. According to reporters in Seoul, the seven-minute address made no reference to China’s Sunday diplomatic overtures.

South Korea and the U.S. went ahead Sunday with around-the-clock naval exercises involving a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier, at least four escort ships and several South Korean vessels. The exercises, scheduled to last four days, are taking place in the Yellow Sea off Korea’s west coast, though considerably south of the disputed sea boundary.

North Korea kept up its end of the war of words Monday, continuing to call the U.S.-South Korea military exercises a “grave provocation” that has brought the peninsula “to the brink of war.”

“If [the U.S. and South Korea] provoke us again, we will wipe out the bases for invaders and will root out the source of war,” claimed the Communist Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the exercises must go ahead, regardless of North Korea’s threats against them.

“You go forward with the exercises. You don’t flinch,” said Mr. Graham, like Mr. McCain a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The two Republicans were joined by Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, in chastising North Korea for last week’s deadly artillery attack, which she called “brazen and belligerent.”

However, she was more optimistic than Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain about whether China can act as a superpower capable of resolving world conflicts. She said the U.S. should not give up on China and praised the country for calling for resumption of six-party peace talks.

But Mr. McCain said it’s time to “talk about regime change in North Korea,” adding that such a change does not mean military action, but insisting that the North Korea regime “is not one that’s going to abandon nuclear power status.”

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