US and South Korean troops opened 11 days of war games Monday in the face of North Korean threats to turn Seoul into "a sea of fire" and to start "all-out war."
Officials dismissed the rhetoric from North Korea as a sign of rising North Korean anger in a familiar cycle of threats. The US command here says the exercises, involving nearly 13,000 US troops and 200,000 Korean civilians mainly conducted on computers, had been in the planning stage for months and were entirely "defensive."
China maintains its prime concern on the Korean peninsula is "stability," but has pointedly refused to support the results of the South Korean investigation with international participation, the Cheonan incident. Last week, it opposed a move in the United Nations to condemn North Korea for construction of a new nuclear reactor capable of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.
"After the Cheonan incident, we have witnessed a new chapter in the war for the Korean peninsula," says Koo Kab-woo, professor at the University of North Korean Studies here. "The new situation depends on China. North Korea has to talk to China before doing anything."
China, says Professor Koo, wields power over North Korea by modulating the flow of food as the North suffers through the coldest winter in many years. "That way China can manipulate the North Korean planning," he says. With China providing the North with 80 percent of its food and fuel, he notes, Chinese officials "have leverage."