Seeking to ease tensions, China proposes trade-off between US and North Korea

Foreign Minister Wang Yi calls for America and South Korea to end drills, and the North to cease nuclear and missile activities

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 12:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 8:00am

China called for North Korea to suspend its missile and nuclear activities in exchange for the US and South Korea halting their military drills, in order to avoid a clash on the peninsula.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday blamed both Pyongyang’s pursuit of its missile and nuclear programmes and the US-led alliance’s drills for the escalation of regional tensions.

He also warned Seoul that it must give up on deploying the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.

“[The situation on the peninsula] is like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way,” Wang said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. “The thing with the utmost urgency for them is to pull the brake at the same time.”

Later on Wednesday, the US shot down the proposal.

The United States rebuffed China’s appeal for talks, saying leader Kim Jong-Un was behaving irrationally and that it was reassessing its approach to dealing with Pyongyang.

After a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea’s actions called for a different response.

“We are not dealing with a rational person,” Haley told reporters.

“If this were any other country, we would be talking about that and it wouldn’t be an issue.”

She described Kim as a “person who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly.”

“We are re-evaluating how to handle North Korea going forward,” she added.

North Korea on Monday test-fired four ballistic missiles that flew about 1,000km and reached an altitude of some 260km before falling into the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the US last week began their annual large-scale joint military drills.

Pyongyang’s missile launch came in the wake of Wang meeting North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song last week in Beijing.

Wang said on Wednesday the tests “ignored opposition from the international community”, and that the joint military exercises conducted by the US and South Korea had significantly increased the pressure on North Korea.

“Nuclear weapons will not bring security. The use of force will bring no solution,” he said, adding that the tensions could be eased by “addressing the parties’ concerns in a reciprocal manner”.

He also repeated Beijing’s calls for the start of talks between North Korea and the US and other relevant parties.

Wang told South Korea to “cease on the brink of the precipice” and stop the deployment of the THAAD system, which Seoul insists is a self-defense measure against the North’s missile threat.

Some equipment for the THAAD system had been delivered from the US to South Korea, according to some reports on Tuesday.

South Korea to retaliate against China ‘discrimination’, says minister

Wang said the system “undermines China’s strategic security” because its monitoring and early warning radars reached far beyond the Korean peninsula.

“It may very well make [South Korea] less secure,” Wang said.

“We strongly advice the ROK [Republic of Korea] not to pursue this course of action. Otherwise they will only end up hurting themselves and others.”

Lotte, the Japanese-Korean conglomerate that has provided land in South Korea for the THAAD system, has become a major target of China’s anger.

With additional reporting by Agence France Presse

Nationalists have initiated widespread boycotts across the country, and several local authorities also cited different reasons to lash out at Lotte businesses.

By Tuesday, 39 Lotte Supermarkets in China had suspended their operations. They represented more than a third of the retailer’s shops in China, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.