US flies bombers over South Korea in show of force against North after nuclear test
The United States on Tuesday sent nuclear-capable supersonic bombers streaking over ally South Korea in a show of force meant to cow North Korea after its recent nuclear test and also to settle rattled nerves in the South.
The B-1B bombers, escorted by US and South Korean jets, flew over Osan Air Base, which is 120 kilometres from the border with North Korea, the world’s most heavily armed. The bombers were likely to return to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, without landing in South Korea.
Such flyovers are common during higher-than-normal animosity on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war as there has never been a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea does not have nuclear weapons and relies on the US “nuclear umbrella” as a deterrent to North Korea. Washington also stations more than 28,000 troops in the South.
North Korea is keenly aware of the US presence on the peninsula and of what it considers the US nuclear threat. It uses such flyovers and the American military influence in the South in its propaganda as proof of US hostility that it claims as the reason it needs a nuclear bomb programme.
“The United States and (South Korea) are taking actions every day to strengthen our alliance and respond to North Korea’s continued aggressive behaviour,” General Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, said in a statement.
Last week’s nuclear test, the North’s fifth, was its most powerful test to date. Pyongyang’s claim to have used “standardised” warheads in the detonation makes some outsiders worry that it is making headway in its push to develop small, sophisticated warheads that can be mounted on missiles that can reach the US mainland.
Speaking in the South Korean capital on Tuesday, Sung Kim, the US envoy on North Korea, added that the United States remained open to authentic, meaningful dialogue with Pyongyang on ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“Our intention is to secure the strongest possible (UN Security Council) resolution that includes new sanctions as quickly as possible,” Kim told a news briefing after meeting his South Korean counterpart.
He said the United States would work with China, North Korea’s major diplomatic ally, to close loopholes in existing resolutions, which were tightened with Beijing’s backing in March.
“China has been very clear that they understand the need for a new UN security council resolution in response to the latest North Korean nuclear test,” Kim said.
However, China and Russia, which strongly oppose a recent decision by the United States and South Korea to deploy an advanced anti-missile system, called THAAD, in the South to counter the North’s missile threat, have shown reluctance to back further sanctions.
“Both sides think that North Korea’s nuclear test is not beneficial to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” China’s official People’s Daily newspaper said on Tuesday following a high-level China-Russia security meeting in Beijing.
“At present, we must work hard to prevent the situation on the peninsula continuing to escalate, and put the issue of the nuclearisation of the peninsula back on the track of dialogue and consultation,” it said.
But China, which believes the THAAD system’s radar could also be used to track its own defences, objected strongly. The plan has also met resistance from residents of the southern county of Seongju, the planned site.
South Korean opposition parties oppose the THAAD deployment, insisting it could escalate a regional arms race and hurt ties with China.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse