Reuters reported on June 28 that, according to the Pentagon, a joint U.S.-Republic of Korea naval exercise that had been expected in June will most likely take place in July, though a date has yet to be set. The exercise is supposed to be a show of force in the wake of the sinking of the South Korea corvette Cheonan with the loss of 46 lives in March. An international investigation of the sinking in May concluded that the corvette was sunk by a North Korean torpedo probably fired in ambush from a submarine. The exercise was expected to start June 8, then June 28. The question now is whether it will be held at all.
The People’s Republic of China, North Korea’s protector, has strongly protested the proposed naval maneuvers in the Yellow Sea between the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and the Chinese mainland. Of particular concern to Beijing is speculation that the aircraft carrier George Washington, (CVN-73) based in Yokosuka, Japan, will take part. The carrier departed on its summer patrol on June 14, leading a strike group consisting of two guided missile cruises and a destroyer squadron. At least one submarine is also normally assigned to such a group. From June 21-25, the task force participated in an undersea warfare exercise with Japanese air and naval units, but far from the contested waters of the Yellow Sea.
A June 9 editorial in the Chinese Communist Party news paper Global Times warned against the joint U.S.-ROK naval operation, arguing that the “Yellow Sea is no place for a U.S. carrier.” It states:
The U.S. should reconsider its military movements in the West Pacific. Disguised as a move aimed at maintaining regional stability, the deployment of a carrier off of China’s coast is a provocation that will generate hostility among the Chinese public toward the U.S. Who would not be bothered by an opponent hanging around at the door with a gun all day long?
The editorial also called the American carrier “a symbol of its past hegemony,” implying that the U.S. Navy was no longer the dominant force in the western Pacific. An earlier editorial had stated that the Obama administration was undecided about whether to include the carrier in the joint exercise and cautioned, “The decision should be made with consideration given to China’s wishes. Media outlets in South Korea and Japan have predicted that China will be unhappy if the carrier does indeed join the exercises.” Beijing constantly refers to the Yellow Sea as “China’s territorial sea,” a designation with no standing under international law.
As the United States backed off its planned exercise, China moved ahead with its own naval demonstration, set for June 30-July 5. The area in which the People’s Liberation Army Navy will conduct live-fire exercises is just north of Taiwan. “The location of the Chinese drill is set to be held in the East China Sea, which would make the foreign navies entering the Yellow Sea uneasy,” said Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military analysis who was quoted in Global Times on June 29. He said the East China Sea is the only way into the Yellow Sea. Song argued it would be easy to form “a favorable war situation” for the Chinese Navy to “shut the dogs up and beat them.”
Song was echoing increasingly shrill voices in China denouncing the United States, as reported by the Associated Press. “China should cover the Yellow Sea with ships and missiles and open fire and drive them back should the American military dare invade our territorial waters,” a commentary on the popular ccvic.com news website demanded.
The U.S. edition of the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on June 29:
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will launch a six-day, live ammunition drill starting on Wednesday in the East China Sea, a move that analysts said is in response to a joint exercise between the United States and Republic of Korea (ROK) navies in the Yellow Sea. The PLA decision was issued on June 24 and posted on major Chinese websites on Monday, when the US-ROK drill was scheduled to start…. But the ROK navy announced on Monday that their joint maneuver has been postponed to July.
The paper cited Shi Yinhong, a senior expert on American studies at Renmin University in Beijing, who stated, “Though the Chinese government did not say anything about the drill, anybody with common sense on military strategy will bet that they are related…. Any large country has its bottom line for military vigilance and pride. The US-ROK drill has drawn angry response from the Chinese public and I think that is one reason behind its delay.” Apparently, American pride is not as strong as Chinese, as the U.S. Navy seems to have retreated in the face of the Chinese protest and counter-exercise.
On June 28, North Korea threatened to bolster its nuclear capability to cope with what it said is a hostile United States. Earlier, it had warned all shipping away from its Yellow Sea coast. It was thought that Pyongyang might conduct anti-ship missile tests in the days before the planned U.S.-ROK naval exercise as its own show of force.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s other ally, Russia, is commencing on June 29 the largest military exercises it has conducted in the Far East in 15 years. The land, sea and air maneuvers will place Russian warships near the Sea of Japan. Earlier, a team of Russian experts had issued a report claiming that there was no credible evidence that the North Koreans had sunk the Cheonan. Moscow also worked to weaken the statement issued at the G8 summit condemning North Korea for the attack.
Kim Myong Chol, who is billed as an “unofficial” spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea, claimed in a column for Asia Times that China has been circulating a report that the South Korean corvette had actually been sunk by an American mine and North Korea was only being blamed as part of a “false flag” operation to stir up tensions. Kim said the Chinese “leaked” the report to New America Media, which claims to be the “largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations.” There it appeared as a column by Yoichi Shimatsu, a former editor of the Japan Times, now an environmental consultant and a commentator for CCTV-9, an international television network run by the Beijing regime.
The Chinese disinformation story is now making the rounds of left-wing websites including Online Journal, Dissident Voice, War Is A Crime (formerly After Downing Street), and the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel where the sinking is compared to other alleged “false flags” like the sinking of the battleship Maine, the invited assault on Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the 9⁄11 attacks.
Beijing is thus doing much more in regard to North Korea than President Barack Obama charged at the G20 meeting when he said China was simply “turning a blind eye” to Pyongyang’s provocations. Beijing is bringing to bear its diplomatic, military and propaganda resources to defend North Korea as it has always done. And under this onslaught, Washington it falling back in disarray.