Was the South Korean answer to the shelling by North Korea appropriate?
No. As the Chosun Ilbo (conservative) answers in today's edition. Quote: "The South Korean military bombarded barracks near North Korean coastal artillery batteries in response to the North's attack on Yeonpyeong Island Tuesday instead of the batteries themselves, which it said would have been "difficult." Statement made by a ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman: "When the military fired back with K-9 self-propelled guns, it targeted not the North Korean Army's coastal artillery batteries but their barracks."
He said it would have been "difficult" for howitzers "to hit North Korea's coastal artillery batteries directly because they are positioned in caves. Therefore, we considered pulverizing auxiliary facilities such as barracks so that they can't operate the batteries properly. But that may have twice allowed the North Koreans to continue firing shells for nearly an hour Tuesday. Some experts say that F-15K and KF-16 fighters, which were scrambled in the attack, should have launched a surgical strike at the batteries."
Chosun report: http://bit.ly/eIuB40
DPRK does not accept the UN demarcation line running through maritime territories drawn after the 1950-53 Korean war. In a statement attributed to a foreign ministry spokesman, the North reiterated its case that Seoul provoked the attack by carrying out live-fire exercises on the island that sent shells into waters claimed by the North. "The enemy fired shells from the islet which is so close to the territory of the DPRK that it is within each other's eyeshot."
Beijing situation is uncomfortable, China "was concerned about the situation on the Korean Peninsula after the deadly exchange of fire between the Democratic People's, and persuaded the two Koreas to behave sensibly and responsibly, and urged for calm and restraint" (Chinese foreign ministry)
And Japan takes the hard line: Pyongyang's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday was "an extremely serious incident," Naoto Kan said at a session of the Diet, (Lower House's budget committee) "We must firmly deal with it, and in that sense, it is an emergency." Kan said while trying to battle the drowning of his support rating. Kan's cabinet fell to a new low of 23.6% in a Kyodo News survey released Wednesday, down 9.1 percentage points from the previous poll earlier this month.
Although Narushige Michishita, a security expert at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies in Tokyo analyzes that the "North’s pattern of provocation suggests it is holding out for a peace treaty to replace the old armistice. That is something however that America will not grant, he said, unless North Korea makes nuclear concessions first. In the meantime, US’s state department insists it will not “buy into this reaction-reward cycle that North Korea seeks to perpetuate”. (Quotes of the Economist)
Following is that the U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday said it is deploying the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group to join the Republic of Korea (ROK)'s naval forces for joint exercises in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula next week, but "the drills were planned well in advance of incidents on the peninsula this week and will take place from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1. Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan said and emphasized that the intent of the exercises is to "enhance our interoperability with the Republic of Korea, but also as a deterrent" to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)."
To answer to the question raised in the title: this is from the Hindu, an interesting editorial summarizes the new episode of decades' old tension on the Korean peninsula. Quote:
"The exchange of shellfire between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea on November 23, 2010, constitutes one of the most serious escalations of regional tension since the Korean War armistice of 1953. The immediate context of the incident is the South's annual military exercises, which include participation by some of the 28,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.
The North has called the drills “dangerous war games,” adding that the naval element thereof is especially provocative. On this occasion, North Korea warned the South to cease naval exercises near the marine border, the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea; when Southern forces commenced artillery fire into disputed waters, Pyongyang responded by shelling Yeonpyeong Island, which lies just south of the NLL. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed, and 18 other people injured. The U.S. has condemned North Korea's action, saying it violates the armistice agreement; Russia has stressed the importance of non-escalation; China has called on both sides to do more to strengthen regional peace and stability; and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has advocated restraint. What is clear is that both parties have been in the wrong in bringing about this crisis.
While both Koreas appear cautious about further escalation, the North is almost certainly expressing intense frustration at Southern actions and the continuing international isolation to which it has been subjected..."
The Hindu entire editorial http://bit.ly/gXnjAK
Sources: Agencies, Chosun Ilbo, WSJ, Economist, Hindu,
Ministries Defense and FA, ROK, China, US, Reporter's notes