Viewed as conservative, the president confirmed that his administration would take steps to exercise its right to “self-defence” in case of a “new North Korean provocation.”
Seoul also announced a ban on North Korean ships navigating in South Korean territorial waters.
In a statement released by the White House, US President Barack Obama offered its full support to South Korea, saying that the South Korean measures were “entirely appropriate” and instructed US forces to coordinate closely with their South Korean counterparts to “deter future aggression.”
Likewise, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is in Beijing for high level talks with Chinese leaders, pressed them to work with the United States on the matter.
The Chinese government, which two weeks ago announced its support for sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme, did not respond.
The two Koreas have been at loggerheads for the past few weeks since the South Korean corvette went down. The situation worsened on 19 May when a team of international experts released a report blaming a North Korean torpedo for the sinking the vessel.
President Lee called the attack “a North Korean provocation”, demanding Pyongyang punish those responsible for this “surprise aggression”.
Kim Jong-il’s government has denied any involvement, and demanded Seoul withdraws its accusation. The decision to stop trade announced this morning is South Korea’s response to such a request.
A source in Korea told AsiaNews that new sanctions “are useful because they will bring Pyongyang to its knees. However, they will be especially hard on the people rather the government and this is tragic for a people that has already suffered a lot.”
What China will do remains an open question. “Only Beijing can support North Korea. Its decision not to respond to US requests means that it is not going to abandon Pyongyang to its destiny. Hu Jintao has always said that he does not want foreign interferences in Chinese politics. The Korean threat can be a way of gaining ground in relation to the war over the yuan.”
In practice, source said, “Beijing could trade peace on the Korean Peninsula for a year of silence over the fixed exchange rate. Washington is very insistent on the matter, but China does not want any monetary reform.”