Bei­jing warns of looming cri­sis stoked by nuke, mis­sile tests and mil­i­tary drills

New Straits Times - - World -

CHINA yes­ter­day called on North Korea to sus­pend its nu­clear and mis­sile ac­tiv­i­ties in ex­change for the United States and South Korea halt­ing mil­i­tary wargames, to pre­vent what it called a “head-on col­li­sion”.

For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi’s pro­posal came af­ter a cas­cade of events that has led to a dra­matic spike in ten­sions in the re­gion, in­clud­ing a vol­ley of North Korean mis­sile tests that flew provoca­tively close to Ja­pan.

China is con­cerned over the de­ploy­ment this week of Amer­ica’s Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence (THAAD) sys­tem, which is be­ing rolled out in South Korea as a shield against the grow­ing mis­sile threat. Wang warned of a “looming cri­sis” stoked by North Korean nu­clear and mis­sile tests and an­nual US-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

“The two sides are like two ac­cel­er­at­ing trains com­ing to­wards each other with nei­ther side will­ing to give way,” Wang said on the side­lines of China’s an­nual par­lia­ment ses­sion.

“The ques­tion is: are the two sides re­ally ready for a head-on col­li­sion? Our pri­or­ity now is to flash the red light and ap­ply the brakes on both trains.”

He pro­posed that North Korea “sus­pend its nu­clear and mis­sile ac­tiv­i­ties in ex­change for the halt of the large-scale US-ROK ex­er­cises,” us­ing the acro­nym for South Korea.

Py­ongyang blasted at least four mis­siles across the sea to­wards Ja­pan on Mon­day, and three of the rock­ets splashed down into waters within Ja­pan’s Exclusive Eco­nomic Zone.

Seoul and Washington have be­gun an­nual joint ex­er­cises that al­ways in­fu­ri­ate Py­ongyang, and the US has started de­ploy­ing an anti-mis­sile sys­tem di­rected at North Korea but which Bei­jing has taken as a threat to its own de­fence in­ter­ests. Wang said China’s pro­posal could help bring the US and North Korea back to the “ne­go­ti­at­ing table” for talks on end­ing Py­ongyang’s weapons pro­grammes.

But it mir­rors past of­fers made by North Korea that were re­jected by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of US pres­i­dent Barack Obama, which said North Korea had no right to de­mand con­ces­sions in re­turn for abid­ing by UN res­o­lu­tions.

Six sets of UN sanc­tions since Py­ongyang’s first nu­clear test in 2006 have failed to halt its drive for what it in­sists are de­fen­sive weapons. It held its most re­cent nu­clear test last Septem­ber.

Wang con­tin­ued China’s ham­mer­ing of the THAAD sys­tem be­ing de­ployed in South Korea.

He said the “very con­tro­ver­sial THAAD sys­tem is the big­gest is­sue” fac­ing China-South Korean re­la­tions, adding that it “un­der­mines China’s strate­gic se­cu­rity”.

Nu­clear-armed North Korea has said its mis­sile launches were a train­ing drill for a strike on US bases in Ja­pan. They have drawn global con­dem­na­tion.

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Tues­day strongly con­demned the launches as a “grave vi­o­la­tion” of UN res­o­lu­tions bar­ring North Korea from de­vel­op­ing mis­sile tech­nol­ogy and de­nounced Py­ongyang’s “in­creas­ingly desta­bil­is­ing be­hav­iour”.

Fol­low­ing the launches, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­it­er­ated Washington’s “iron-clad com­mit­ment” to the se­cu­rity of Ja­pan and South Korea, and threat­ened “very dire con­se­quences” for its ac­tions.

With the ten­sions ris­ing, the US State De­part­ment said yes­ter­day that Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son would visit Ja­pan, South Korea and China from March 15 to 19, his first visit to the re­gion.AFP

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