Factbox: Key powers in the Korean confrontation

(BestGrowthStock) – North Korea’s deadly bombardment of a South Korean island has triggered a volatile crisis in the region. But the divergent goals of regional powers will mean there will be no quick fix.

Here are the key players and their main positions:

NORTH KOREA

The North may be ratcheting up tensions to wrest diplomatic and economic concessions from other governments, a game that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il has played before, using nuclear tests, missiles and military exercises.

Some analysts believe Kim wants to jolt the United States and its allies to attention in order to eventually return to nuclear negotiations with North Korea holding the initiative.

Kim may also have homegrown reasons. His health has been deteriorating, and he may want to send an emphatic message to North Koreans that his grip is not weakened.

North Korea’s propaganda machine is also using the attack to boost the military standing of Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of the leader, some analysts say.

THE UNITED STATES

The Obama administration has been pursuing a policy of holding out the door to fresh nuclear disarmament negotiations with North Korea, but stressing that it will not be drawn into talks without North Korea showing it is serious about disarming and easing tensions.

The shelling crisis presents a difficult test for that policy, sometimes called “benign neglect.”

On the one hand, by raising pressure on North Korea through military exercises and sending an aircraft carrier to the region, the U.S. may face deeper confrontation with Pyongyang and also irk China.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has said that North Korea must bear the consequences of the shelling, and Washington will also face expectations from regional allies, South Korea and Japan, to show resolve on that point.

For now, the administration is focused on pressing China to use its influence over North Korea.

CHINA

China’s position, however, is likely to remain less clear-cut than Washington would like. China has said its priority is maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

But from the Chinese point of view, preserving stability also means treading softly in dealing with North Korea, a prickly partner, especially while it is undergoing a leadership transition.

Analysts say China also wants to check U.S. influence in the Korean peninsula. China was angered earlier in the year by joint U.S.-South Korea naval exercises, saying they could threaten its security and regional stability. China will probably also not welcome fresh exercises in coming days.

On the other hand, Chinese President Hu Jintao is aiming to make a state visit to the United States in January 2011. That visit is an important political trophy for Hu, and that may give Obama a little extra leverage in persuading him to bring more influence to bear on Pyongyang.

For a factbox on the ties binding China and North Korea, click: [ID:nTOE6AM02M].

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea warned North Korea of retaliation if it took more belligerent steps. But analysts say President Lee Myung-Bak’s options for dealing with his country’s unpredictable neighbor are limited if it wants to avoid war.

The public has become frustrated by the policy of engagement with North Korea that was pursued by former presidents, Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun, because it has failed to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions and confrontations with the South.

That frustration could mount. The government in Seoul has faced public ire for the military’s response to shelling, which has been called too slow, echoing complaints made when a South Korean navy ship was sunk in March by what Seoul concluded was a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors.

But expanded confrontation with North Korea could again rattle South Korean markets, and also irk China, a major trade partner.

JAPAN

Japan has long taken a hardline stance against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs and its kidnappings of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s to train North Korean spies — still a highly emotive issue among the public.

Japan pledged on Wednesday to cooperate closely with South Korea and the United States and said it is discussing with them on how to deal with the issue in the U.N. Security Council.

Japan’s options are limited. Tokyo has said it could consider more sanctions, but it already bans all trade with the North and forbids North Korea-flagged vessels and charter flights from entering Japan, in addition to the U.N. sanctions.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Chris Buckley in BEIJING and Chisa Fujioka and Yoko Kubota in TOKYO, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Factbox: Key powers in the Korean confrontation