SEOUL, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- South Korea likely will press China to rein in North Korea's military when South Korean and Chinese defense ministers meet in February.
"Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will meet with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie in Beijing during February," a South Korean defense ministry official said. "Working-level officials will meet in January to set the agenda for the meeting."
Announcement of the meeting comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea unexpectedly shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in mid November.
The daylight attack, in which North Korea fired around 170 shells, damaged dozens of house and several military buildings. It also killed two South Korean marines and two civilians and injured at least 20 people. South Korean forces returned fire with 155mm K-9 self-propelled howitzers.
The last meeting between Chinese and South Korean defense officials was in May 2009. No date has been set for the meeting in February.
The official said Seoul and Beijing have been working on another meeting. But finalization of dates was delayed by North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the subsequent resignation of South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. He stepped down amid assertions that the military was caught unaware of a North Korean threat and was slow to respond to the North's attack.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak accepted the minister's resignation "to improve the atmosphere in the military and to handle the series of incidents," a presidential official said at the time.
The North Korean attack was condemned by many of South Korea's allies, including the United States. Washington repeatedly urged China to do more to pressure its ally North Korea not to ramp up military tensions between the two Koreas officially still at war since the 1953 cease-fire agreement that split the peninsula into two countries.
The shelling is believed to have been in response to South Korean military exercises in the politically sensitive sea area where the main Yeonpyeong Island is less than 8 miles from the North Korean mainland.
Yeonpyeong lies near the Northern Limit Line, the sea boundary agreed to by both Koreas in the 1953 Armistice that ended three years war. But North Korea increasingly has contested the agreement in the past 15 years.
South Korea is widely expected to ask China to "act responsibly" in order to stem North Korea's additional provocations against the South.
"The defense ministers will likely exchange views on the North Korean attack and Pyongyang's torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel, though the meeting will focus on promoting bilateral defense cooperation and peace in Northeast Asia," another ministry official said.
The Yeonpyeong Island attack and the March sinking of a South Korean naval patrol vessel, which killed 46 sailors, have left relations between the two Koreas at their worst for several years.
An international investigating team said it found strong evidence that the 1,200-ton Cheonan was split in half by a torpedo of North Korean manufacture. The team said the torpedo was likely fired by a small to mid-size submarine.
North Korea's National Defense Commission denied it had anything to do with the attack on the Cheonan.
The deteriorating inter-Korean relationship has resulted in more military drills and live-firing exercises by South Korea close to its borders with North Korea, including on Yeonpyeong Island, as well as sea exercises with its ally the United States in the Yellow Sea.
Little hope of improved Korean relations appears on the horizon, the Seoul think tank Institute for National Security Strategy said. North Korea is likely to be more hostile because military leaders will compete military actions against the South to impress the country's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong Un, 28.
Kim Jong Un, son of leader Kim Jong Il, will further consolidate his power by becoming a vice head of the National Defense Commission, of which his father is chairman.
North Korea will "strive to increase special forces and develop strategies for dominance in limited conflicts against South Korea," the INSS said. That could mean the North attacks vessels, front-line observation posts and defectors living in South Korea.