Clinton Heads To South Korea After Talks In China

Wrapping up strategic and economic consultations with top Chinese officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads next to South Korea. Tensions on the peninsula are running high since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship in March and causing the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors. The U.S. and South Korea are planning joint anti-submarine exercises in response to the sinking, and the North is vowing to defend itself against any act of belligerency. The South has suspended much of its trade with the North and is blasting propaganda via loudspeakers across the DMZ. The North has threatened to shell the loudspeakers.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Tomorrow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to South Korea at a time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most tense it's been in years. North and South Korea have both said they will retaliate if the other side launches a military strike.

Two days of talks between Secretary Clinton and Chinese leaders yielded little progress on North Korea, as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

(Soundbite of applause)

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): I do remember...

ANTHONY KUHN: With most of her substantive talks over in Beijing, Secretary Clinton sat in as a guest on a state-run TV talk show. After fielding questions about work-life balance and Chelsea's wedding, she talked about the incident that sparked the current crisis.

Sec. CLINTON: We are very concerned about the sinking of the South Korean vessel. The 400-page independent report determined that North Korea did it. Don't ask me why. I don't understand why they would do that.

KUHN: As the secretary pondered if the two Koreas reverted to their Cold War status quo of exchanging propagandistic taunts across the demilitarized zone via loudspeaker.

North Korea today announced it would sever all remaining ties with the South and ordered all Southerners out of the Kaesong Joint Industrial Zone. The South, meanwhile, officially re-listed the North as its principal enemy.

These looked like a flurry of final blows to South Korea's so-called sunshine policy of detente with the North. Since taking office two years ago, President Lee Myung-bak has dismantled the sunshine policy and used aid to the impoverished North to reward or punish its behavior.

Mr. JOEL WITT(ph) (Koreas Expert, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies): And I think a lot of the South Koreans felt that this was working and that they were getting the upper hand on North Korea.

KUHN: Joel Witt, a Koreas expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says sanctioning Pyongyang for its missile and nuclear tests and other transgressions is not wrong, but it's not a complete policy, either.

Mr. WITT: If we think we can just kind of rest on a strategy of putting pressure on North Korea and a strategy of containing it and maybe even trying to modify its behavior through that kind of approach, then we're sadly mistaken. It's just not going to work.

KUHN: Witt points out that when it comes to pressuring Pyongyang, the U.S. and other nations harbor illusions that China is going to do the heavy lifting just because it has the most leverage over the North. In fact, critics say, Beijing has shielded Pyongyang from the effect of sanctions.

Secretary Clinton today said the United States was working well with Beijing, but she also suggested that Beijing would be in no hurry to get the U.N. Security Council to hit Pyongyang with fresh sanctions. She said that what Beijing wanted was...

Sec. CLINTON: A period of careful consideration in order to determine the best way forward in dealing with North Korea as a result of this latest incident.

KUHN: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Seoul this week. Some observers see it as Beijing's attempt to be even-handed towards the South after hosting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on a recent visit to China.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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