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Sino-US relations

China and US step up military talks to prepare for the worst on North Korea

Generals from two sides wrap up meetings in Washington that were planned in August but held hours after Pyongyang’s latest missile test

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 11:02am

Military officials from China and the United States are stepping up communications on the Korean peninsula situation, defence analysts said, as generals from the two sides wrapped up talks.

Meetings in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday – chaired by Major General Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department, and Lieutenant General Richard Clarke, US Joint Chiefs planning director – were held just hours after Pyongyang’s most powerful missile test to date.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Wu Qian said on Thursday that the talks were held to discuss crisis management and enhance mutual trust, without giving details.

The talks were agreed by the two nations in August, but took place after North Korea launched the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike “the whole mainland of the United States”.

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Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said the talks were a chance for the US and Chinese generals to exchange views on the Korean peninsula.

“I expect the Chinese and US would have raised the topic of how to respond to a North Korea crisis,” he said. “But given the lack of deep trust, it’s unlikely a detailed plan was discussed during the meetings.”

Observers said China and the US would engage in more military talks amid concern over Washington’s warnings that it may take the military option against Pyongyang.

Su Hao, a Sino-US relations expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, said there was a heightened risk of confrontation between Beijing and Washington following Pyongyang’s repeated missile and nuclear tests.

Both nations were concerned about how China would respond to any US military strike, he said.

“We have come to a moment when there should be more military exchanges,” he said. “We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

China has previously said it opposed military intervention in North Korea. Beijing is also reluctant to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang, fearing it will lead to the collapse of the regime.

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said there was an increased chance of a US military strike against North Korea, and China and the US were boosting coordination to handle the threat from Pyongyang.

“With regional security getting worse, military cooperation between China and the US has become more necessary,” he said.

When he visited China in August, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed a Chinese military drill in Shenyang, Liaoning province, which borders North Korea – an arrangement seen as unusual.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said the Washington talks were not aimed at Pyongyang’s latest missile test, but Beijing would probably have asked the US to stop holding military exercises with South Korea and Japan.

Adam Ni, a researcher on China’s foreign and security policy at Australian National University, said the latest talks showed that both sides saw the need to communicate in case there was an emergency on the Korean peninsula.

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He said they might not have a concrete contingency plan for North Korea, but there would be more low-profile talks between China and the US.

“A moment of crisis on the peninsula is also an opening for China and the US to work together in order to put more pressure on North Korea,” Ni said.

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng