Image: A North Korean soldier
Ahn Yioung-joon  /  AP
A North Korean soldier surveys the southern side at the border village of the Panmunjom, South Korea.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/8/2010 4:56:55 AM ET 2010-12-08T09:56:55

The top U.S. military officer warned the "bad guy" in North Korea Wednesday that the United States' commitment to defend the South was "unquestioned" as the Communist state's military fired shells across the disputed sea border.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who took part in a press conference with his South Korean counterpart Gen. Han Min-koo after arriving in Seoul for a two-day trip, also said China should do more to use its enormous leverage to rein in the North.

Mullen said there was "no doubt in my mind (provocations) will continue unless leaders step forward and put Pyongyang in a position where they realize their behavior has to change."

"This guy's a bad guy and when you're dealing with bad guys, you can't wish away what they're going to do," Mullen said of the North's iron ruler Kim Jong-il.

"Because of the actions taken by North Korea recently ... they're making (the region) a more dangerous place," he added.

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Mullen called recent North Korean aggression, including an artillery attack last month that killed four South Koreans, "belligerent, reckless behavior."

South Korea's military said an unknown number of artillery shells from the North fell on its side of a disputed maritime border off the west coast, adding the firing was most likely part of regular exercises.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries agreed Wednesday to stage more joint military drills, following last week's giant exercise of the west coast, to deter North Korean aggression.

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No 'lack of resolve'
Mullen said however they would avoid taking steps that would escalate into a conflict on the peninsula.

"The North should not mistake this restraint as a lack of resolve — nor should they interpret it as willingness to accept continued attacks to go unchallenged," he said.

Mullen's South Korean counterpart, Gen. Han Min-koo, called the artillery attack a violation of the U.N. charter and armistice signed at the close of the war.

He said South Korea and the U.S. would quickly complete a plan to deal with North Korea's provocations, which he said have become bolder.

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"If North Korea were to additionally provoke us, we will respond in a very firm manner out of self-defense, and North Korea will have to pay a very deep price for the additional provocation," Han said.

Slideshow: Daily life in North Korea (on this page)

Mullen said the Chinese must do more.

"They are a world leader and leaders must lead — particularly to prevent crises and to prevent the kinds of destabilizing activities that are very evident coming out of the leadership in Pyongyang," he said.

"China has unique influence. Therefore, they bear unique responsibility," Mullen said. "Now is the time for Beijing to step up to that responsibility and help guide the North, and the entire region, toward a better future."

China views the North as a strategic buffer against the U.S.-allied democracy South Korea and is Pyongyang's largest trade partner and benefactor.

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Wednesday's firing — just over two weeks after the deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong island —followed the North's revelations of advances in its nuclear program, opening a second route to make an atomic bomb.

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'Delivering a message'
The attack set off a flurry of diplomatic activity involving Seoul, Washington, Tokyo and the North's ally Beijing, and next week, a former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, current New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, will meet government officials in Pyongyang, a senior U.S. official said.

The official, who did not want to be identified, said Richardson would not be "delivering a message" on this private trip, but the Washington Post reported he had been invited by top North Korean officials involved in the nuclear program.

The two Koreas frequently conduct drills in the area around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) off the North's west coast. Pyongyang does not recognize the sea border which was established without its consent after the 1950-53 Korean war.

Mullen's trip to South Korea and Japan follows talks in Washington on Monday between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Japanese and South Korean counterparts. All three voiced grave concerns over the North Korean attacks and called on China to take action against its wayward ally.

On Tuesday, Beijing hit back at the United States and its Asian allies for their refusal to talk to North Korea, saying dialogue was the only way to calm escalating tension on the divided Korean peninsula.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg will lead a U.S. delegation to China next week to try to persuade Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang despite Chinese fears that this may destabilize North Korea, a U.S. official said.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have been lukewarm toward Beijing's proposal for emergency talks between the six regional powers, worried that they could be seen as rewarding Pyongyang for its deadly attack on a South Korean island two weeks ago.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: "Defending" the Budget

Photos: Daily life in North Korea

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