The South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was bombarded by North Korean forces in late November, killing at least four South Koreans, two of whom were civilians. The attack took place near disputed waters west of the Korean Peninsula where numerous incidents have occurred since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. In March of this year, a South Korean ship, the Cheonan, sank after an explosion on board that killed 46 South Korean sailors. The international community blamed North Korea. After the most recent clash, South Korea’s defense minister resigned under heavy criticism for his country’s slow response to the attack. South Korea announced changes in its rules of engagement to permit a more forceful response in the future.
The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea inspected the damage on the island and called the attack a clear violation of the truce. Japanese lawmakers denounced the “outrageous act of violence,” while Beijing was largely silent on the affair. North Korea blamed the South for provoking the incident by conducting military exercises close to Yeonpyeong and warned that it would not hesitate to attack again if “provoked.” But in a show of defensive strength, naval vessels led by the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington entered the Yellow Sea for four days of maneuvers that were planned long before the recent shelling.
The U.S. military stations nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, which is a major ally in East Asia. According to military officials, the purpose of the force is to help ensure both local and regional security by serving as a deterrent. The presence of U.S. troops also guarantees that the United States would be in position to react in a major way if war or major hostilities broke out.
- N Korea Warns War Drills Take Region to “Brink of War”
This article covers the flare-up between North and South Korea after the North shelled an island in the disputed waters between the two Koreas, killing several South Koreans. Includes time line of events of 2010, chart on military balance of forces, links to related articles.
(Source: BBC News, November 26, 2010)
- Factbox: The Battles of the Korean West Sea
This Reuters feature provides background to the conflict between North and South Korea as it relates to the islands and disputed waters west of the peninsula.
(Source: Reuters, November 29, 2010)
- America’s Role in South Korea
This Web site provides audio and transcript of a brief interview with a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia who discusses the purpose of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
(Source: theworld.org, November 26, 2010)
- Maps of South Korea
These two maps provide key details about shelled by North Korea on November 21.
(Source: New York Times, November 23, 2010)
Other Issues in the Region
Trade and Prosperity
East Asian economies became global powerhouses in the 1970s and 1980s, but the decline of Asian economies in the 1990s created a crisis that led around the globe. The rapid changes in East Asian economies also raised concerns about the use of child-labor and sweatshops, where people work long hours for little pay.
- China Passes Japan as Second-Largest Economy
Decades of sustained growth have pushed China’s economy past Japan’s to become the world’s second-largest behind that of the United States. China’s second quarter 2010 gross domestic product measured $1.33 trillion, providing strong evidence that its ascendance as a new economic superpower is for real.
(Source: New York Times, August 15, 2010)
Ring of Fire
The countries of East Asia are located within the “Ring of Fire,” a chain of volcanoes rimming the Pacific Ocean. Volcanoes formed the islands that form the nation of Japan. The islands remain vulnerable to volcanic eruptions and earthquake activity. People in Japan have adjusted to such threats. National and local governments inform citizens and visitors about what to do should an earthquake occur. Scientists regularly monitor seismic activity (earth tremors) and the islands’ volcanoes. Earthquake drills are held annually, and governments have sought to improve construction standards to minimize earthquake damage.
Quality of Life
The rapid industrialization of East Asia has made some countries among the most prosperous in the world. But the population growth in countries like China has also meant that poverty and poor health care still plague many East Asians.
In an effort to find better jobs to support their families, tens of millions of Chinese are leaving their homes in rural areas and moving to the booming cities. They are lured by new construction jobs and the opportunity to send money home to their families. But many have difficulty getting paid for their work. Often these workers are treated as second-class citizens in the cities, and many workers cannot prove their claims because they did not sign contracts when taking jobs.
- Asia’s Silent Victims of Pollution and Emissions
Increasing numbers of road fatalities and the clouds of industrial pollutants and hydrocarbon emissions from vehicles are unfortunate consequences of economic development, particularly in Southeast Asia. Traffic accidents cost countries far more than they receive in development assistance, and together with occupational accidents they cause more death and disability than do infectious diseases.
(Source: The Guardian, June 10, 2010)