China and Russia Hold Back on NK Assault

Japan has joined the chorus of condemnation for yesterday’s North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea, while China and Russia have avoided blaming Pyongyang directly.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, opening a meeting of a hastily established cabinet task force to deal with the issue this morning, called the assault an “unforgivable act” before adding, “I strongly condemn North Korea.”

However, as has also been the predominant diplomatic trend, Kan also called for calm, saying, “We will respond by closely maintaining ties with South Korea and the United States.”

Noting that the attack has added extra tension to the situation in Northeast Asia, Kan also called on China to reign in its errant ally.

“We should ask China, which has significant influence over North Korea, to make an effort to jointly restrain North Korean actions,” Kan told the assembled ministers.

Meanwhile, China’s own response remained limited to a brief statement during a Foreign Ministry press briefing Tuesday, with ministry spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters, “We have noticed related reports and are concerned about the issue. The real situation needs to be confirmed.”

“We hope related parties do things conducive to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Completing the responses of the Six-Party Talks nations, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released a neutral statement yesterday, expressing “deep concern” at the “exchange of artillery fire” but conspicuously avoiding attributing responsibility.
“The Russian side resolutely condemns any manifestations of force in relations between states and believes that all existing controversial issues should be dealt with solely by peaceful, diplomatic and political means,” it declared, calling for “responsibility and restraint” to avoid escalation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also commented on the attack, saying, “I think that what happened deserves to be condemned and those who initiated the shelling of a South Korean island are taking a huge responsibility upon themselves,” but stopping some way short of pointing the finger.