North Korea is threatening further military attacks against South Korea unless Seoul agrees to redraw a disputed maritime border.
The two sides traded heavy artillery fire yesterday, leaving two South Korean marines dead and a dozen injured.
Seoul has now raised its alert level to the highest setting short of war.
But unsurprisingly, North Korea accuses the South of firing first.
"The South Korean puppets fired dozens of shells inside our waters and our forces reacted" a North Korean presenter said on state-run TV.
"We had warned them against staging war exercises and escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"Should the South Korean puppets dare intrude into our territorial waters we will take merciless military counter-actions."
The international community has condemned the attacks and many world leaders have said they will be looking towards China to apply more and more pressure to Pyongyang.
The United States also offered quick comment, with the White House saying it "strongly condemns" the "belligerent action" by North Korea.
Beijing has merely expressed a wish for 'peace and stability on the peninsula', reports the China Daily.
The New York Times observed that North Korea is a headache China can often do without:
"North Korea's unending appetite for confrontation has left many wondering what its bottom line is, none more so than its supposed patron and big brother, China.
"Despite its impoverishment and heavy dependence on Chinese aid and support, North Korea seems to regularly defy every Chinese diplomatic initiative, from Beijing's work to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free to its efforts to prevent a violent confrontation.
"China's influence is rising steadily around the world. But the problem of how to manage North Korea, its Communist neighbour and onetime ally, appears to befuddle China's leaders, who stumble from indulging the North to sending occasional signals of pique, all without persuading the country to adopt a path toward greater openness or stability."
Still in the United States, USA Today published comment from John Bolton, UN ambassador under President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
"They threaten and undertake these kinds of aggressive actions in the expectation that the United States and others will appease them," Bolton said. "From Pyongyang's point of view, why not, it has worked almost every time."
Bolton urged that the Obama administration isolate North Korea and reject further negotiations.
"The threat from North Korea is not going to end until North Korea ends," Bolton said. "It's a matter of squeezing them, isolating them completely and saying to China, which has the unique capability to determine events in North Korea: You can't pursue a hands-off policy anymore if you are serious in saying you don't want North Korea with nuclear weapons."
Last night's artillery attack is the third provocative act by North Korea in recent times.
First was the sinking of the South Korean corvair The Cheonan, with the loss of 46 lives. Then wide publicity of an American nuclear expert's tour of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that showed the plant was far bigger and more advanced than most observers had thought possible.
Writing in The Guardian, Julian Borger wonders how Seoul will react to this persistent prodding from its northern neighbour.
"Seoul and its allies now face the dilemma of how to respond, as the South Korean public becomes increasingly restive over what many see as the North's immunity from reprisals.
"After the Cheonan sinking, Lee imposed a handful of economic sanctions and insisted on a formal apology from Pyongyang before six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear programme could resume. That has had no apparent effect on Pyongyang's behaviour."
In The Australian, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd backed South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, "a very experienced statesman and political leader" to handle the crisis.
"I believe he will handle this in a responsible and calm way," Rudd said. "But imagine the political pressure he is under."
- NZHERALD STAFF