China welcomes U.S. saying it is open to talks on North Korea

By Michael Martina and Ju-min Park. BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – China on Thursday welcomed an apparently softer tone by the United States on the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis but stressed its opposition to a U.S. missile defence system being deployed in South Korea.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 26, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS

Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on North Korea and other countries on Thursday to avoid behaviour or rhetoric that could increase tensions around Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. Speaking at a news conference in Moscow after talks, the two leaders said  they had agreed to cooperate closely to try to help defuse tensions around North Korea.

China has long promoted dialogue to resolve the Korean nuclear issue as North Korea has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States. Washington has in turn warned that “all options are on the table” in ending North Korean provocations.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is a major security challenge confronting President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.

Trump’s administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” said a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior officials.

Asked about the U.S. comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had noted that many U.S. officials had recently made such remarks.

“We have noted these expressions, and have noted the message conveyed in these expressions hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation,” he said. “We believe this message is positive and should be affirmed.”

South Korea and the United States agreed on Thursday on “swift punitive measures” against North Korea in the event of further provocation. The South also said the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defence system was moving ahead effectively a day after angry protests by local residents against the battery and amid fierce opposition from China.

South Korea on Wednesday moved parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to its deployment site on a golf course about 250 km (155 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, signalling faster installation.

Several hundred villagers protested, hurling water bottles at vehicles moving the parts in.


The top U.S. Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, said on Wednesday the THAAD system would be operational “in coming days,” bolstering the ability to defend the U.S. ally and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there.

A photograph of the site showed a THAAD interceptor on a mobile launcher erected and pointed skywards on a green lawn as a military transport helicopter hovered nearby.

China says the system’s advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security. It is adamant in its opposition.

“The deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea damages the regional strategic balance and stability. The Chinese side is resolutely opposed to this,” Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

“China’s military will continue to carry out live-fire military exercises and test new military equipment in order to firmly safeguard national security and regional peace and stability.”

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said on Thursday the U.S. policy was to exert maximum pressure on North Korea through sanctions and diplomatic activity “as frankly a last best way of seeing whether we can get a peaceful resolution to this problem”.

The first step of this process was to ensure that all countries were “fastidiously implementing” existing sanctions, something that would be stressed by Tillerson in a meeting he will chair with U.N Security Council foreign ministers on Friday, she told a think tank event in Washington.

The United States would pursue “pressure and engagement” against “anyone in the international community with ties with North Korea,” Thornton said, but the focus would be on China, given that 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with that country.

Harris, testifying in Congress, said on Thursday the United States was seeing “more positive, proactive activity” than ever before by China but that it was too early to tell whether it would be enough to cause Pyongyang to curb its missile and nuclear programs, but added: “I wouldn’t bet my farm on it.”


The U.S. signal of a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group approached Korean waters, where it will join the nuclear submarine USS Michigan.

North Korea, which on Tuesday conducted its biggest ever artillery exercise to mark the 85th anniversary of its military’s creation, says it needs to develop weapons to defend itself from U.S. aggression.

A North Korean official speaking on CNN said the country would not be influenced by outside events.

“As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests,” said Sok Chol Won, director of the North’s Institute of Human Rights at the Academy of Social Sciences.

Moon Jae-in, the front-runner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying a decision should be made after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.

For a graphic on North Korea’s show of force, click –

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Jack Kim, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry; Editing by Robert Birsel and James Dalgleish)


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