Image: South Korean ships stage off Yeonpyeong Island
David Guttenfelder  /  AP
South Korean ships stage off of the coast of Yeonpyeong Island Sunday ahead of war games with U.S. forces.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/28/2010 9:52:46 AM ET 2010-11-28T14:52:46

China called for emergency talks on resolving a crisis on the Korean peninsula on Sunday, and Seoul and Tokyo said they would study the proposal, as the U.S. and South Korean militaries started a massive drill.

Beijing's move to bring the two Koreas to the negotiating table comes after global pressure on China to take a more responsible role in the standoff and try to rein in ally Pyongyang.

China made clear that the talks would not amount to a resumption of six-party disarmament discussions which North Korea walked out of two years ago and declared dead. South Korea said it would carefully consider China's suggestion.

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Both Beijing and Pyongyang have been pressing regional powers to return to talks, in some form or other, for the past few months, in a move analysts say is designed to extract concessions.

China, which agreed with South Korea that the situation was "worrisome," suggested the emergency talks for December among North and South Korea, host China, the United States, Japan and Russia. It did not say whether Pyongyang had agreed to join.

Japan was non-committal. "We want to respond cautiously while cooperating closely with South Korea and the United States," Kyodo news agency quoted Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama as saying.

Beijing has longstanding bonds with Pyongyang, and has sought to shield its small, poor neighbor from a backlash that China fears could draw an even more ferocious reaction from North Korea and dangerously destabilize the region.

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Critics in Washington and other capitals say China's approach amounts to coddling a dangerous nuclear-armed state.

South Korea's marine commander on Saturday vowed "thousand-fold" revenge for the North Korean attack. North Korea said that if there had been civilian deaths, they were "very regrettable," but that South Korea should be blamed for using a human shield.

It also said the United States should be blamed for "orchestrating" the whole sequence of events to justify sending an aircraft carrier to join the maritime maneuvers.

Yonhap new agency in Seoul said North Korea, whose ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, is preparing to hand over power to his youngest son, had moved surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles to frontline areas, days after it shelled Yeonpyeong killing four people. The North's official KCNA news agency warned of retaliatory action if its territory is violated.

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South Korea's Defense Ministry told journalists to leave the island on Sunday because the situation was "bad." Many residents evacuated earlier said they did not want to return.

In Seoul, life carried on normally for the city's more than 10 million residents, with downtown shopping districts jammed with people despite the freezing temperatures, and cafes decked with Christmas decorations doing brisk business.

"I am worried, but not that worried that I need to stay at home," said Eunhye Kim, an usher showing people from a packed theater in the capital. "They don't really want to make war ... there's no gain for either side."

Pressure on China
The around-the-clock exercises, in waters well south of the disputed maritime boundary off the west coast, are being held in the face of misgivings by China and threats of all-out war from North Korea.

The chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly will visit China from Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China has not taken sides in the conflict and declined to blame North Korea, unlike the United States, for the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March.

"We ask that China make a contribution to peace on the Korean peninsula by taking a more fair and responsible position on South-North Korea ties," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he had told a visiting Chinese delegation.

Washington says the four-day drill is intended as a deterrent after the worst assault on South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Seoul expects jitters in financial markets to settle in the short term unless North Korea carries out further provocations, Yonhap quoted a senior Finance Ministry official as saying.

The nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, has joined the exercises and will be accompanied by at least four other U.S. warships, an official from U.S. Forces Korea said.

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South Korea has deployed three destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, Yonhap reported.

The border between North and South Korea is among the world's most heavily fortified, with the peninsula still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 war ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

North Korea also disputes the maritime border drawn by U.N. forces at the close of the war, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island — 50 miles from the South Korean port of Incheon but just 7 miles from the North Korean mainland — its territory.

The area has seen several bloody skirmishes, including the sinking of a South Korean warship eight months ago, killing 46 sailors. An international team of investigators concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, but Pyongyang denies any involvement.

Tuesday's attack on the island, which has military bases as well as a civilian population of 1,300 who mostly make their living from fishing, marked a new level of hostility. Two marines and two civilians were killed, and 18 others wounded, when the North rained artillery on Yeonpyeong in one of the worst assaults since the Korean War.

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'Situation is not good'
The Defense Ministry said Sunday that journalists must leave Yeonpyeong Island because the "situation is not good."

A ministry official said that a ship will be arranged to evacuate journalists later Sunday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity citing office rules, said other safety measures will be arranged for remaining islanders, rescue workers and local officials on Yeonpyeong Island.

About 380 people, including 28 islanders and 190 journalists, remain on the island on Sunday, according to Incheon city government that governs the island.

The previously planned joint war games launched Sunday by the U.S. and South Korea were sure to heighten the tensions.

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Ships from both countries entered the exercise zone Sunday, an official with South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.

The exercises are being held in waters far south of the disputed maritime boundary.

Washington, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect the ally, insists the drills involving the USS George Washington supercarrier are routine and were planned well before last Tuesday's attack. However, North Korea expressed outrage over the Yellow Sea drills.

The nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, will be accompanied by at least four other U.S. warships, an official from U.S. Forces Korea told Reuters.

South Korea has deployed three destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, Yonhap news agency reported.

Sunday's burst of artillery fire in North Korea was the second in three days. Authorities briefly ordered residents to evacuate, before recalling the order.

"We got the report that North Korea's artillery batteries were in the 'ready-to fire' posture," police chief Choi Du-gyu said. "So we decided to order residents to evacuate to keep them safe."

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North Korea also staged an apparent artillery drill Friday, the guns sounding just as the U.S. military's top commander in the region, Gen. Walter Sharp, was touring Yeonpyeong Island. No shells landed anywhere in South Korean territory.

Rubble
Last Tuesday's attack reduced dozens of homes on the island to rubble. All but a handful of residents have evacuated to the mainland.

Life went on as normal in the sunny and cold capital, Seoul. In the chic shopping district of Myeondong, tens of thousands jammed the streets looking for bargains and drinking coffee at cafes. There has been no disruption of air and shipping routes.

As monks chanted their morning prayers at Jogye Temple, Shim Jeong-wook, 74, said he didn't think North Korea would attack again, not with a U.S. aircraft carrier group in South Korean waters.

"I don't think North Korea will provoke while the U.S. Navy fleet is in the Yellow Sea," he said. "But who knows what will happen when it leaves?"

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Interactive: North Korea attack

Video: All eyes on North during U.S. war games

  1. Closed captioning of: All eyes on North during U.S. war games

    >> well while all of that was unfolding together, the administration was dealing with the ongoing crisis in korea. now u.s. forces have begun military exercises with south korea . ian williams is in seoul with the latest. good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, natalie. it's now monday morning here in seoul , south korea , and we're now 24 hours into the military drills. north korea warning of what it calls a merciless military counterattack if its territory is violated. preparing for landing exercises, the start of four days of live fire war games , mostly at sea, 70 miles south of the disputed maritime border. north korea has responded with its own drilling, shelling heard sunday within its territory, close to yeonpyeong, the island attacked. they have moved in additional missile systems. with tensions soaring, china sent an envoy to seoul and called for a summit on the crisis, icrisis that shook the prosperous south korea cam tal where people are indifferent to the tantrums of the dictator next door. no more.

    >> i'm scared, because they bombed yeonpyeong.

    >> reporter: drive north of seoul , you quickly realize why, the modern highway has wired and watch towers and beyond the distant hills of north korea . seoul is just 30 miles from the dmz dividing the two koreas. it's within easy striking distance that the north's missile and artilleries, one of the heaviest concentrations of weapons on the planet. south koreans have always had an incredible ability to shrug off the threats and the rhetoric from the other side of this, the world's most fortified border. there's been a lot of hope here, but that's been badly shaken by events of the last week. it's images like these, civilians in the firing line that makes a threat from north far more real.

    >> that kind of shook the koreans up and made them think what they would have to do if there was an attack in the city.

    >> reporter: a peace park sits beside the dmz as a symbol of hope and a popular day for day trippers from seoul . today the mood was somber, looking warily into no-man's-land, a wall of ribbons call for reunification and peace. suddenly a more distant hope. it's a tragedy for the korean people this man told me. officials here in seoul have welcomed the fact that china is finally getting involved diplomatically, but they say the first thing beijing should do is rein in her north korean ally.

Photos: Tension in the Koreas

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  1. A South Korean border guard mans a post through a fence draped with re-unification ribbons near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on Dec. 22, 2010. South Korea vowed Wednesday to "punish the enemy" as hundreds of troops, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters prepared massive new drills near the heavily armed border a month after a deadly North Korean artillery attack. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A North Korean defector takes part in a candle light vigil on the eve of the one month anniversary of the North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Dec. 22. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A combination of photos shows North Korean soldiers taking part in a shooting exercise at a field in Kaepoong county, on the north side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in this picture taken from south of the DMZ in Paju, about 31 miles north of Seoul, on Dec. 22. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. South Korean soldiers patrol a seashore in Dangjin, about 120 km 75 miles south of Seoul on December 21. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bae Bok-soon (R), an older sister of Bae Bok-chul, cries during the funeral for the two civilians who died when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, in Incheon, west of Seoul on De. 6. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Crew members watch as an F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington during a naval exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The drills come amid heightened tension in the region after a North Korean artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island last week. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Staff watch radar screens in the Combat Direction Center on the USS George Washington during the military drills off South Korea. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former South Korean special agents whose mission was to infiltrate North Korea, sing a military song during a rally on the Yeonpyeong island, South Korea. About 85 former agents, who criticized the North's attack and urged the South Korean government to punish Pyongyang, landed the island Nov. 30 and said they would stay for a week to help with reconstruction. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. South Korean marines await navy ships carrying military equipment on Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday, Nov. 30. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. North Korean defectors and anti-North Korea activists release balloons for North Korea containing $1,000 in $1 notes and anti-North Korean leaflets in Paju, north of Seoul. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. South Korean middle school students learn how to use a gas mask in a mock chemical attack in Seoul. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. During a rally denouncing last week's bombardment, Korea Freedom Federation members shout outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Nov. 29. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. South Korean marines watch President Lee Myung-Bak's news conference on a television minitor on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 29. Lee condemned North Korea's recent shelling of the South Korean border island, calling an attack against civilians an "inhumane" crime. (Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. South Korean ships stage off the coast of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 28 as war drills by the United States and South Korea began. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. South Korean protesters hold candles during a rally in Seoul opposing the military exercise between South Korea and the United States. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. South Korean women take cover inside a bomb shelter on Yeonpyeong Island after authorities sounded the alarm over a possible North Korean rocket attack on Nov. 28. It proved to be a false alarm. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A North Korean soldier, right, looks back as she and another soldier patrol on a pathway along the bank of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, North Korea, Nov. 28. (Andy Wong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A South Korean police car is reflected in the shattered glass of a restaurant window along a seaside road on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 27. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Former South Korean marines burn images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un, during a rally Nov. 27 in Seoul. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Kim Oh-bock, mother of Seo Jung-woo, a South Korean marine killed in the Nov. 23 North Korean bombardment, cries as she holds his casket during a funeral service Nov. 27 at a military hospital in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. South Korean marines carry flag-draped caskets of two comrades during a funeral service Nov. 27 in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The mother of South Korean marine Moon Kwang-wook, another marine killed by North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, cries Nov. 27 at her son's funeral. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. South Korean protesters denouncing North Korean attack on an island close to the border between the two nations burn a North Korean flag in Seoul on Nov. 24. After North Korea's strike, South Korea and the United States said they would launch four-day naval exercises in the Yellow Sea involving an American aircraft carrier. (Jung Yeon-Je / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. South Korean protesters trample on a picture of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Buddhist monk shouts slogans with protesters at a rally denouncing North Korea in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Truth Leem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A man walks past a house wrecked by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong island, Nov. 24. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Destroyed houses are seen on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 24. (Dong-A Ilbo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. South Korean survivors react upon their arrival at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea on Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A destroyed house is seen on Nov. 24 after it was hit by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong Island. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. South Korean marines, who were injured when North Korean artillery shelled Yeonpyeong island, sit on beds at a military hospital in Seongnam on Nov. 24. (Yonhap / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. People stand near destroyed houses on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. South Korean police officers load relief supplies for villagers of Yeonpyeong Island, at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 23. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. South Korean Red Cross workers load relief supplies bound for Yeonpyeong Island at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, Nov. 24. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A resident of the Yeonpyeong Island arrives at Incheon port, South Korea, on Nov. 23. (Kim Chul-soo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A picture taken off television shows the moment of impact of one of the artillery shells fired by North Korea onto the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. This picture taken by a South Korean tourist shows huge plumes of smoke rising from Yeonpyeong Island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23. North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto the South Korean island, killing two people, setting homes ablaze and triggering retaliatory fire by the South. It was one of the most serious clashes between the two sides in decades. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (38) Tension in the Koreas
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