Even as Pentagon warned of security threat to the United States because of what it perceived as China’s waning influence on North Korea, Beijing called for all parties involved in talks on North Korea’s nuclear program to adopt a responsible attitude and not take any action to exacerbate tension, Reuters reports.
This week, the North announced a plan to fire a long-range rocket that it says is for a space program. It also said it was working to improve its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea is expected to launch an upgraded long-range ballistic missile, which would violate international sanctions, as it prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on Oct. 10.
“We call on all sides to adopt a responsible attitude toward the peninsula as well as the region of northeast Asia, and never again take any new action that could lead to tensions in the situation there,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told an academic forum on the North Korea talks issue, without directly mentioning any country.
While China has been angered by North Korea’s provocative behavior, it has also been critical of military exercises staged by South Korea and the United States for exacerbating tension.
South Korea has been restrained in its response to the North’s latest tough talk though, a sign it does not want to disrupt a fragile improvement in ties after negotiations ended a tense stand-off last month.
“If there is war or chaos on the peninsula, it benefits no one,” Wang added. “If denuclearization issue is not resolved, there is no way the peninsula will be stable, and it will be difficult for northeast Asia to be at peace.”
In 2005, North Korea reached an agreement with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia to suspend its nuclear program in return for diplomatic rewards and energy assistance.
Numerous efforts to restart the talks have failed after negotiations collapsed following the last round in 2008. At the time, North Korea declared the deal void, after refusing inspections to verify compliance.
North Korea has called for the resumption of the talks, but the United States and South Korea have said it must first show it is serious about ending its nuclear program.
David Shear, US assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, and Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of US Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that North Korea remained a grave security threat to the United States, VoA said.
“I think that China’s influence on North Korea is waning, or China does not have the influence on North Korea that it had in the past. So that is also an area of concern,” Harris said.
Shear said China’s influence on North Korea had lessened, particularly under Kim Jong Un’s rule.
“The Chinese reiterated to me, as they have in the past, that their influence with North Korea is limited, particularly under the new regime,” he said.
Shear cited, as an example, the recent military standoff between the two Koreas.
“It wasn’t clear to us that the Chinese had a lot of contact with North Koreans or were able to significantly influence them,” he said.
Harris described North Korea as the “greatest threat” that the United States is facing in the Pacific.
“I think that you have a leader in North Korea who has nuclear weapons and is seeking the means to miniaturize them and deliver them inter-continentally,” he said.
Seoul readies for reunions
South Korea is moving ahead with preparations for reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War despite rival North Korea talking about new rocket launches and nuclear tests.
South Korean officials have hinted they will try to proceed with planned Oct. 20-26 reunions at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort even if the North launches a satellite before then.
But analysts believe a dramatic provocation from the North could threaten the reunions as it would inevitably stoke military tensions on the divided peninsula.
“Unlike the issue of economic or food aid, the Seoul government will be able to carry on with the family reunions even in the face of a North Korean provocation without worrying about losing public support,” Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Saturday.
However, since the reunions will be held in North Korea, they could be threatened by escalated military tension along the border, which might follow a rocket launch,” he said.