By John Pomfret Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 12:49 AM
In dispatching the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, the Obama administration said it was putting on a show of U.S. support for South Korea.
South Korea was attacked Tuesday by a deadly North Korean artillery barrage, days after the North revealed what could be a new nuclear weapons program, and President Obama said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with an American ally.
But the carrier – with 6,000 sailors and aviators and 75 warplanes – has another audience: China. Exasperated with a lack of help from Beijing on the Korean Peninsula, the Obama administration is trying to pressure China to constrain North Korea.
Pointedly, the Obama administration is sending the George Washington, four companion ships and at least one high-tech attack submarine into the Yellow Sea, off China’s coast – the same sea where the administration decided not to hold exercises in July because of boisterous Chinese protests.
“Call it a message,” said a senior U.S. military officer, “but we believe in the freedom of navigation.”
“It’s really important that Beijing lead here as well,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Wednesday. “The country that can influence North Korea the most is clearly China.”