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April 11, 2017

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Seoul warning for North Korea

CHINA has agreed to “strong” new measures to punish North Korea if it carries out a nuclear test, Seoul said yesterday after the United States signaled it may act to shut down Pyongyang’s weapons program.

South Korea’s top nuclear envoy made the comment after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, as the US sent a naval strike group to the region in a show of force.

“We agreed that there should be strong additional measures based on UN Security Council resolutions if the North pushes ahead with a nuclear test or an ICBM launch despite warnings from the international community,” Kim Hong-kyun told reporters.

North Korea may stage a “strategic provocation” to mark key political dates this month, Kim said, adding that Wu’s visit would serve as a “strong warning” against Pyongyang. Wu did not speak to the media after the talks.

Speculation of an imminent nuclear test is brewing as North Korea marks anniversaries that include the 105th birthday of its founding leader on Saturday — sometimes celebrated with a demonstration of military might.

US President Donald Trump, fresh from a missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as a warning to North Korea, has asked his advisers for a range of options to rein in its ambitions, a top US official said on Sunday.

The talks between Kim and Wu came shortly after Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for a summit.

The meeting came on the heels of yet another missile test by North Korea, which fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan last Wednesday.

The US Navy strike group Carl Vinson canceled a planned trip to Australia this weekend, heading toward the Korean Peninsula instead.

South Korea and the United States are also conducting joint drills, an annual exercise which is seen by North Korea as practice for war.

Pyongyang aims to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five tests, two of them last year.

Satellite imagery analysis suggests it could be preparing for a sixth, with US intelligence officials warning Pyongyang could be less than two years away from its goal of striking the continental US.

China, the US, South Korea and Japan all have dedicated envoys who meet regularly to discuss the North Korean issue: a legacy of a long-stalled six-party process that also involved Pyongyang and Moscow. North Korea quit the negotiations in 2009.

North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology, but repeated rounds of sanctions have failed to arrest its ambitions.

Trump has previously threatened unilateral action against North Korea, a threat that appeared more palpable after last Thursday’s strike on a Syrian airfield following an apparent chemical attack.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said the repercussions of a potential military response were worrying.

“Preemptive strikes may be aimed at resolving North Korea’s nuclear problems, but for us, it is also related to defending the safety of the public,” he told reporters.

While a US unilateral strike on North Korea from a shorter range might be more effective, it would likely endanger civilians in South Korea and risk triggering a broader military conflict, experts warn.

“The US has always had all the options on the table from a preventive strike to preemptive strike to negotiations,” said James Kim, an analyst at Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “If it’s a preventive strike or precision strike, there’s danger that this could expand into a broader regional conflict involving China or Japan.”


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