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Saturday, November 27, 2010

China Engages Koreas in Diplomacy, With a Warning to the U.S. - NYTimes.com

China Engages Koreas in Diplomacy, With a Warning to the U.S. - NYTimes.com

By IAN JOHNSON and MARTIN FACKLER
BEIJING — China engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity on Friday, three days after a North Korean artillery attack on South Korean civilians, but its most public message was directed at the United States, which is about to begin joint exercises with South Korea’s Navy.

In a statement from its Foreign Ministry, China warned against “any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Friday. But virtually all the waters to the west of the Korean Peninsula, where the United States said the exercises would take place, lie within that zone, and American naval traffic is far from uncommon there.

Adding yet more tension to the situation, the North’s state-run media also warned that the maneuvers could push the Korean Peninsula closer to “the brink of war.”

The West has hoped that China would use its leverage as the North’s traditional ally to press it to refrain from further attacks, but the Chinese statement on Friday failed even to criticize the North for its shelling on Tuesday of a garrison island that is also home to about 1,350 civilians, mainly fishermen. The attack killed four people.

The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, met with the North Korean ambassador on Friday and spoke by phone with his South Korean and American counterparts, but few details emerged about the content of their conversations. A State Department spokesman said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had called Mr. Yang.

Xinhua reported that Mr. Yang stressed that China was “very concerned” about the situation, saying, “The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.”

In a statement about the joint naval exercises, which are scheduled to begin on Sunday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said: “We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue. We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission.”

This introduced into the mix China’s decade-old efforts to equate economic waters, which usually extend about 200 nautical miles off a country’s coast, with territorial waters, which usually reach about 12 nautical miles off a coast. In 2001, Chinese fighters intercepted and collided with a United States spy plane flying outside territorial waters but inside the economic zone, saying the American plane had violated China’s sovereignty.

A statement from the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet, issued in apparent anticipation of Chinese complaints about the exercise, listed the number of times American aircraft carriers had operated in the waters west of the Korean Peninsula, including a mission in October 2009. The statement also noted that American aircraft carriers frequently visited South Korea and conducted port visits, including the aircraft carrier George Washington earlier this year, the John C. Stennis in March 2009, and the Ronald Reagan, the Nimitz and the George Washington in 2008.
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