S.Korea to stage joint naval drill despite China protest

SEOUL, July  9, 2010 (AFP) - South Korea said Friday it would stage a naval exercise with the United States in the Yellow Sea to deter North Korean "provocation", despite strong protests from China about the drill.

"The date and methods have not yet been decided but the South Korea-US joint military exercise will be carried out," said defence ministry spokesman Won Tae-Jae.

"The joint exercise in the Yellow Sea is being planned as North Korea carried out an illegal provocation, the sinking of the Cheonan."

The South, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuses the North of torpedoing the warship in March with the loss of 46 lives. The North angrily denies responsibility.

China warned the United States and South Korea Thursday against holding the war games near its waters, and urged them not to worsen tensions with its ally North Korea.

"China has expressed its serious concerns with relevant parties," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing.

"We are firmly opposed to foreign military vessels engaging in activities that undermine China's security interests in the Yellow Sea or waters close to China."

The drill was originally set for last month but was delayed until the United Nations Security Council wrapped up discussions on the sinking.

The South announced its own non-military reprisals against the North, including a partial trade ban, and also urged the Security Council to censure Pyongyang.
Permanent council members China and Russia have not, however, publicly accused the North of being to blame for the sinking.

According to a draft statement set to be adopted Friday US time, the council will condemn the attack which led to the sinking but stop short of directly blaming the North.

The draft, approved by all five permanent members, takes note of North Korea's denials of involvement. But it expresses "deep concern" at the findings of the multinational probe implicating the North.

It "underscores the importance of preventing such further attacks or hostilities against the ROK (South Korea)", while praising Seoul for its restraint in the months following the attack.

Seoul's foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment on the draft. But a ministry official quoted by Yonhap news agency expressed satisfaction.

In its current form the statement would send "a clear and stern" message to North Korea, the unidentified official said.

"It noted the result of the investigation that held North Korea responsible and expressed deep concern over that. So, the council essentially condemned North Korea."