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(LEAD) Tensions likely to ease over joint S. Korea-U.S. naval drills: scholars

All Headlines 16:19 July 11, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul's alleged move to change venue of naval drill in paras 4-5; CHANGES dateline and headline)
By Kim Young-gyo

HONG KONG/SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States and China will seek to smooth tensions over the proposed South Korea-U.S. joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, scholars said Sunday.

South Korea and the United States plan to stage massive anti-submarine exercises later this month in waters off the Korean Peninsula's west coast in a show of force against North Korea in the wake of the regime's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

Beijing has strongly opposed the planned drills that will reportedly include a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, saying they are "provocative actions toward China."

Confronted with strong resistance from China, Seoul is reportedly considering moving the venue of the joint naval exercise to its southern or eastern coasts, according to a government source in Seoul.

"It is yet to be decided whether the naval drill with the U.S. will take place in the West or East sea. The drill can be held anywhere, as our nation is surrounded by sea on three sides," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said, however, the current psychological strains between China and the two allies will not escalate further, as the U.N. Security Council has adopted a presidential statement about the attack on the South Korean naval ship Cheonan.

"This U.N. statement, which reflects the China-U.S. cooperation, might deflect attention on the U.S.-South Korean naval exercise," Zhang told Yonhap News.

The 15-member Security Council, including the U.S. and China, unanimously approved on Friday the statement after a month of tug-of-war that began when South Korea referred the case to the global security body for a rebuke of the North.

Zhang Quanyi, professor at Zhejiang Wanli University in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo, showed a similar view.

"China and the U.S. will try to avoid any eruption or elevation of crisis on the Korea Peninsula, as it will affect their bilateral relations. Therefore, the two will try to keep the powder keg down," he said.

"The current psychological confrontation is only a tension on the surface. The Sino-US will work to have more strategic cooperation."

Kim Mikyung, professor at Hiroshima City University, said that both the U.S. and China are not interested in disrupting regional security.

"China is obviously nervous about the joint drill, and has made it clear that Beijing is not only determined but also capable of deterring any provocations. But let's not over-read," Kim said.

"The psychological tension is basically about the regional hierarchy competition between Washington and Beijing, and yet both sides know that they also have to work together."

She also added that medium powers like South Korea should be mindful that these two great powers will alternate between competition and cooperation depending on the issue.

"The Cheonan incident happens to be divisive, and Beijing and Washington acted accordingly," Kim said.


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