'2 Plus 2' Meeting Comes at a Critical Time for S.Korea

      July 22, 2010 13:32

      The foreign and defense ministers of South Korea and the U.S. in a joint statement on Wednesday "called upon North Korea to refrain from further attacks or hostilities" against South Korea "and underscored that there would be serious consequences for any such irresponsible behavior." They said they are "committed to maintain a robust combined defense posture capable of deterring and defeating any and all North Korean threats, including through recently announced bilateral plans to conduct a series of joint military exercises over the coming months."

      Naval forces are set to hold a large-scale joint exercise in the East Sea from Sunday to Wednesday involving the nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington, 200 fighter aircraft including the state-of-the-art F22 stealth jets, as well as 20 South Korean warships and 8,000 troops. The last time an exercise of this scale took place on the Korean Peninsula was in 1976 following the axe murder of American officials by a North Korean soldier in Panmunjom. South Korea and the U.S. plan to hold additional military exercises until the end of this year, including a submarine drill on the West sea in early September.

      U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that North Korea, which is in the process of leadership succession, could engage in further provocations. On Tuesday, James Clapper, the nominee for director of national intelligence said, "The most important lesson for all of us in the intelligence community from this year's provocations by Pyongyang is to realize that we may be entering a dangerous new period when North Korea will once again attempt to advance its internal and external political goals through direct attacks on our allies in the Republic of Korea."

      U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gates also made a historic visit to the heavily fortified border separating the two Koreas. It was the first time the U.S. secretaries of state and defense paid a joint visit to the demilitarized zone. "We are here today not just to show our appreciation for the vital work" the two armies do to maintain the armistice, "but also to send a strong signal to the North, to the region, and to the world that our commitment to South Korea's security is steadfast," Gates said.

      It was the first time that the so-called "two plus two" meeting of the foreign and defense chiefs was held. The U.S. has been holding "economic strategy talks" with China since last year, while similar talks with Japan were halted in 2006. With China steadfastly supporting North Korea following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, South Korea and the U.S. have no choice but to hold these talks and launch joint military exercises to prevent further provocations while sending a clear message to the North and China that peace and stability must be maintained on the Korean Peninsula at all costs.

      If China seeks to bolster its alliance with North Korea after witnessing the show of support between South Korea and the U.S., the peninsula could once again become the scene of a Cold War. Seoul and Washington must find a solution to that problem.

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