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USS George Washington: What message does it send to North Korea?

USS George Washington is being sent to the Yellow Sea after North Korea attacked South Korea's Yeonpyeong island. By dispatching the USS George Washington, Obama is telling North Korea and its ally China that belligerent behavior will bring consequences.

By Staff writer / November 24, 2010

A formation of aircraft flies over the aircraft carrier USS George Washington off the Korean peninsula in this July 27 photo. The US dispatched the USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea after North Korea attacked South Korea's Yeonpyeong island.

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Washington

By dispatching the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea to undertake four days of joint military exercises with South Korea beginning Sunday, the US is signaling to North Korea to cease its provocations like Tuesday’s deadly artillery shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong island.

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It is also letting the people of South Korea know that the US is committed to their defense. “First and foremost, beefing up our military presence and holding these joint exercises … is intended to signal to our allies that we stand behind them,” says Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

But the naval drills are also a message to China. Washington has been appealing to Beijing for years – under both the Bush and Obama administrations – to do more to pressure its friends in North Korea to stop their belligerent behavior and disregard for international demands, though to little effect.

Now with the escalation that the shelling of Yeonpyeong island represents, the US is signaling to China: You may not like our military presence in your neighborhood, but an increasing American defense of South Korea will be one consequence of a failure to rein in an aggressive and unpredictable North Korea.

The Pentagon spokesman has been very clear and has emphasized that our dispatching [of the USS Washington] to the region is not in any way aimed at China,” says Ms. Glaser. “But indirectly, I think what we are saying is, if Beijing is unwilling to use its influence to rein in its friends who are behaving in such a negative way, then there will be negative consequences for the Chinese in the region.”

Why China doesn't rein in North Korea

One problem, some China analysts say, is that for all the attention to China’s growing power in its region and the world, it doesn’t have the ability to order around its weak and backward neighbor. And even if it did, they add, China wouldn't want to risk destabilizing North Korea or its regime for fear of losing a useful ally, one which is a buffer against the US military presence in South Korea. A destabilized regime could also prompt hordes of desperate and destitute North Koreans to flee into China.

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