SINGAPORE (AP) - In a clear challenge to China, U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates said Asian nations cannot stand by in the
face of North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship.
The attack, which killed 46 South Korean sailors in March, was
part of a reckless pattern of aggression by North Korea, Gates
"The question people have to contemplate is, what are the
consequences for a North Korea of an unprovoked attack on a
neighbor? For nothing to happen would be a very bad precedent here
in Asia," Gates said, addressing an international security summit.
He did not mention China's financial and diplomatic support for
North Korea but said "the nations of this region share the task of
addressing these dangerous provocations."
The United States and South Korea want China to approve a new
international condemnation or punishment of the North. South Korea
took its case to the U.N. Security Council on Friday. China is one
of five veto-holding members of the council.
China is the communist North's closest ally and largest patron,
giving it economic and political pull over an otherwise reclusive
and antagonistic regime. The United States and South Korea want
China to use that clout to rein in the North Koreans.
In a tense exchange during the defense conference in Singapore,
Gates dismissed suggestions by a Chinese general that Washington
was being hypocritical in criticizing North Korea but not Israel
for its commando raid on an aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea
"There is a wide gap in the U.S. attitude and policy to the two
instances," said Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu of China's National Defense
University. He did not endorse the U.S.-backed international
finding that the North sunk the warship Cheonan with a torpedo.
Gates said the attack on the warship was a surprise operation
conducted "without any warning." Israel had issued several
warnings to the flotilla not to enter its territorial waters, he
"I won't make judgment on responsibility or fault" in the
Mediterranean incident, Gates said, adding that he favors an
international investigation to determine responsibility.
"But I think there is no comparison whatsoever between what
happened in the eastern Mediterranean and what happened to the
Cheonan," he said.
He denied that the sinking revealed holes in the security the
large U.S. military presence in Asia is supposed to provide for
allies such as South Korea.
"What it demonstrates is that a surprise and unprovoked attack
is very difficult to defend against," Gates said.
Gates also said, without elaboration, that the U.S. is
considering "additional options to hold North Korea accountable."
A delegate to the International Institute for Strategic Studies
gathering asked Gates to explain.
"You teased us a little," she said.
"I would prefer just to tease you," Gates replied to laughter.
He offered no further explanation.
The United States and South Korea have already said they plan
joint military exercises in response to the Cheonan's sinking,
although Gates has said those exercises would probably wait until
the Security Council looks at the case.
Beyond the show of force and solidarity from those planned
exercises, options are limited. Nearly any response could provoke
the North further, something Gates and other U.S. officials say
they want to avoid.
Still, the United States is already beefing up its missile
defenses in Asia, and could send additional weaponry or warships to
The United States already has already applied trade and other
sanctions to North Korea. Additional punishment could include the
U.S. putting North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of
terrorism, although legal opinions differ on whether the Cheonan
attack was terrorism.
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