China, US military chiefs vow to patch up differences as North Korea threat rumbles on
Both sides pledge to strengthen ties between defence forces as top US and Chinese military brass meet in Beijing
Military chiefs from China and the United States have pledged to overcome differences and fortify links between their armed forces as fears of conflict over nuclear-armed North Korea persist.
The commitment came as Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, met his US counterpart Joseph Dunford in Beijing on Tuesday.
According to the defence ministry, Fang told Dunford that China would work with the US to handle disputes and efficiently manage and control risks.
Fang, a member of the powerful Central Military Commission, said both sides should “push forward stable military ties as an important and major stablising factor in bilateral relations”.
Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said both sides were willing to overcome discord.
“We have many, many difficult issues where we don’t necessarily share the same perspective,” Reuters quoted Dunford as saying. “We share a commitment to work through these difficult issues.”
The defence ministry also said the two sides exchanged views on issues of common concern, including Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear development.
Tensions have flared in the last week amid a war of words between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But those strains could be easing with North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency saying Pyongyang would put its plan to hit the US territory of Guam on hold to watch the US “a little bit more”.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying North Korea would be ready to approve the launch of four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles if the US “persists in their extremely dangerous, reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and its vicinity”.
It did not say what those actions were but the US and South Korea are expected to conduct annual war games from Monday. The exercises involve tens of thousands of US and South Korean troops and simulate an attack from the North.
Dunford had said that his goal for the trip was to further develop a working relationship with China to lessen the risk of miscalculation on the Korean peninsula.
Washington is trying to enlist Beijing, Pyongyang’s traditional ally and biggest trade partner, to put maximum pressure on the reclusive regime.
But Chinese analysts said Beijing would not fall in behind the US.
Yue Gang, a military commentator and retired PLA colonel based in Beijing, said: “China will not simply follow the US’ lead on every matter … nor should it get too involved [in the tensions between the US and North Korea].”
Li Jie, another Beijing-based military analyst, said China was not willing to go beyond economic sanctions.
“The US might have told China [at the meeting] about their plan for a possible military response if North Korea attacks, because they would want to know how China would react,” Li said.
“But China would have let the US know that our action towards North Korea is limited to economic sanctions – that would be the most China would do in coordination with the US.”
Jie Dalei, assistant professor of international relations at Peking University, said China would do its best to stop the US attacking North Korea, but it would not support North Korea unconditionally in a military conflict.
“On an operational level, China needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario and needs to make decisions based on its own interests,” Jie said.
Tokyo is the next stop on Dunford’s Asian tour.
Earlier in Seoul, he told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that full military options were being prepared but were the last resort when diplomatic and economic sanctions failed.
Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that China and Russia would not allow any provocations in the two countries’ backyard and they should work together to ease tensions over North Korea, state-run Xinhua reported.
Additional reporting by Kinling Lo