Washington and Pyongyang flex military muscle

North Korea, however, holds off on a much-feared sixth nuclear test

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 11:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 12:35am

A US nuclear-powered submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force on Tuesday, just as Pyongyang flexed its own military muscle to mark an armed forces anniversary.

The US Navy said the port call of the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine Michigan was “normal routine”, but its arrival came after the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group, accompanied by two Japanese destroyers, said they expected to reach Korean waters on Wednesday, according to the US ­Defence News.

At the same time, North Korean forces conducted long-range, live-fire artillery tests on the country’s east coast to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the founding of its army. But the drill did not involve a sixth nuclear test as many had feared, helping ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said Pyongyang showed restraint under pressure from various parties, including the United States, China, South Korea and Japan. China had also played a big part, he said.

“Beijing’s firm stand on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is one of the key reasons behind Pyongyang’s reluctance to conduct a nuclear test,” Zhang said.

“Beijing sent a clear message to [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un that a nuclear test would lead him to an impasse.”

But Beijing had not given up hope of resolving the crisis through negotiation, he said.

China has repeatedly called on all sides to exercise restraint, a message President Xi Jinping conveyed in a phone call with US President Donald Trump on Monday.

Can Trump do anything to stop a war with North Korea?

In a sign of easing tension, Air China, the only Chinese carrier with regular services to North Korea, said on Tuesday that it would resume the flights between Beijing and Pyongyang on May 5 after a three-week suspension, China Central Television reported.

The announcement came as China’s envoy for Korean affairs, Wu Dawei, landed in Tokyo for talks on the crisis. He also spent several days in Seoul earlier this month.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “We hope that all parties, including Japan, can work with China to promote an early peaceful resolution of the issue, and play the role, put forth the effort, and assume the responsibility that they should.”

Zhou Chenming, from the Knowfar Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies, said Kim could be putting off another nuclear test because it would encourage voters in South Korea to back hardliners in next month’s presidential election.

China’s role as a peacemaker on the North Korean crisis should be encouraged

“Kim would prefer a moderate candidate to be elected because he or she would be easier to deal with,” Zhou said.

Nevertheless, there is a still a chance that Pyongyang will fire off another nuclear test or conduct a missile launch, given that the army anniversary celebrations will continue throughout the week.

In Washington, top Trump ­administration officials will hold a rare briefing at the White House on Wednesday for all 100 US senators on the situation in North Korea.

Meanwhile, the Michigan is one of the US’ four missile and special operations submarines converted to carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weapons.

Trump ordered the US Navy to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria when he was dinning with Xi at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida earlier this month. Analysts said that order was also meant to send a message of military intimidation to North Korea.

Additional reporting by Reuters