The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 25, 2010)
We condemn N. Korea's reckless attack on island
南北砲撃戦 北朝鮮の暴挙を強く非難する(11月24日付・読売社説)

North Korea's abrupt firing of artillery shells at an island where civilians live is a grave military provocation, which cannot be tolerated.

The outrageous, reckless act, which could lead to a recurrence of war, is a clear violation of the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. We strongly criticize the act.

In broad daylight on Tuesday afternoon, the North Korean military shelled Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea near the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. According to South Korea's announcement, at least two South Korean soldiers were killed in the incident. With black smoke billowing from several locations, local residents were forced to flee to shelters on the island or evacuate to the mainland.


A sea of tension

The waters around Yeonpyeong Island are known as a sea of tension. Vessels from the two countries have frequently had confrontations and exchanged fire in the area because of a dispute over where to draw a military demarcation line in the sea.

However, the latest incident was the first time since the two countries signed the Korean War truce that the island, with a civilian population of 2,000, has been shelled by North Korea.

North Korea justified its attack in a statement issued by its supreme military command, saying it had "taken strong military action" immediately after South Korea fired dozens of shells into North Korean territory. South Korean forces were conducting military exercises near the disputed sea border.

But whatever excuses North Korea makes, its act of targeting civilians will not be forgiven. North Korea must make clear who is responsible and punish that individual.

The shelling stopped, at least for the time being, after the South Korean military returned fire. However, it remains unknown what steps North Korea will take next. We should understand that the two countries are in a critical, touch-and-go situation.

In March, a South Korean Navy ship was sunk by a torpedo attack in waters in the area. North Korea denied it was responsible. This time, North Korea is quite clearly responsible for the shelling. But even if there are calls for retaliation in South Korea, we urge the South Korean government to firmly restrain itself and deal with the situation in a coolheaded manner.


Dynasty-building tactic?

The skirmish took place at a time when North Korea has begun substantial preparations for a succession at the pinnacle of its government. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, was named vice chairman of North Korea's Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea in September, paving the way for a transfer of power to a third generation of the family.

North Korea is believed to be undertaking a series of aggressive actions during the period of power transfer, aiming to consolidate the regime's power base by reinforcing support from the military.

The international community must stay alert against North Korea, which possesses nuclear weapons and has intensified its belligerent stance.

Recently, North Korea has made every effort to attract international attention through various activities, such as construction of a light-water reactor, disclosure of its uranium enrichment activities and moves believed to be preparations for its third nuclear test.

These moves are presumably intended to lead to one-on-one negotiations with the United States. But the latest incident, which broke out while Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy on North Korea, was visiting South Korea, Japan and China to discuss steps to be taken to deal with North Korea, is expected to lead to the opposite result.

Japan, the United States and South Korea must take all possible steps to further bolster their cooperation in order to stop North Korea's military provocations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 24, 2010)
(2010年11月24日01時16分  読売新聞)