South Korea worries North may take more action

South Korea said an increasingly belligerent North may be preparing aggressive moves after Chinese fishing boats were spotted leaving a disputed sea border dividing the peninsula.

South Korea and the United States have already raised the military alert level in the region after North Korea followed Monday’s nuclear test with missile launches and a threat of war.

In New York, the United States and Japan circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution to key council members that condemned Pyongyang’s second nuclear test and called for strict enforcement of UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after its first atomic test in October 2006.

“Our forces are watching these movements [by Chinese fishing boats] with the view that they could be signs that indicate the possibility of North Korea’s aggression,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Won tae-jae said.

The escalating tension had little fresh impact on financial markets, which took a hit earlier in the week after the nuclear test. Traders said even though North Korea’s belligerent tone was unsettling, it was, without military confrontation, not enough yet to significantly deter investors.

There have been two deadly naval skirmishes on the disputed maritime border in the past 10 years and the North has warned another could happen soon.

The 1999 and 2002 clashes were in June, the peak of a lucrative three-month crab season when fishing fleets jockey for the best spots near the contested maritime border.

“Now that there’s talk of ... an all-out war, we fishermen are worried,” said 48-year-old Yeonpyeong island fisherman Kim Jae-sik.

“Nowadays when we go out, we know we are facing dangers.”

The island lies off the west coast in the Yellow Sea, in waters the North claims but the South has occupied since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The joint command for the 28 500 US troops supporting South Korea’s 670 000 soldiers has raised its alert a notch to signify a serious threat from North Korea.

That is the highest threat level since the North’s only other nuclear test in October 2006.

It calls for stepped up surveillance but not an increase in manoeuvres by troops who face a million-strong North Korean military, most massed near the heavily fortified border.

Poorly equipped
Military experts say the North has enough artillery trained on South Korea’s capital to cause massive destruction but its army is generally poorly equipped.

They also say it does not have the ability to build a nuclear warhead, though the latest test does take it a step closer to being able to make an atom bomb.

North Korea’s increasingly angry provocations unnerve other countries, but many analysts said a major aim is domestic—strengthening leader Kim Jong-il’s steely grip on power.

They say that after a reported stroke last year, the 67-year-old may well feel a need to use his powers more extravagantly to help prepare for a successor—possibly one of his sons—to take over the world’s first communist dynasty.

Some also point out Kim has long used the threat of invasion by a hostile United States to justify spending the impoverished state’s meagre resources on a military that keeps him in power, rather than on the rest of the population of 23-million.

That situation means his government will not give up the goal of owning nuclear weapons, analysts say.

“The more North Korea resembles a third-rate South Korea on the economic front, the more the Kim Jong-il regime must justify its existence through a combination of radical nationalist rhetoric and victories on the military and nuclear front,” Brian Myers, an expert on the North’s ideology at the South’s Dongseo University, wrote in an International Herald Tribune article.

UN draft resolution
In a draft resolution obtained by Reuters, the Security Council “condemns in the strongest terms” the North’s test.

It calls for enforcement of sanctions imposed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test, which included a limited trade and arms embargo but have been widely ignored. A vote could come as early as next week, diplomats said.

A US State Department delegation, including special envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth, was planning to visit Japan, China, Russia and South Korea. All are members of now frozen six-party negotiations to persuade the North to give up efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

But it may be difficult to win support from China, North Korea’s dominant trading partner and the nearest it has to a major ally, for much tougher sanctions.

“We’re really at a point of decision. The international community can accept that North Korea is a nuclear state, abandon the idea of denuclearisation, and accept all of the serious consequences of that,” said Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at the Central Party School, a leading institute in Beijing.

“Or it can agree to swift and decisive action against North Korea. But there’s no real middle-way left.” - Reuters

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