N Korea tension has to be stopped from reaching ‘irreversible’ stage

BEIJING/PYONGYANG: China said on Friday tension over North Korea had to be stopped from reaching an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” as a US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region amid fears the North may conduct a sixth nuclear weapons test.
Concern has grown since the US Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack, raising questions about US President Donald Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN and unilateral sanctions.
The United States has warned that a policy of “strategic patience” is over.
US Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour which nevertheless opposes its weapons programme, has called for talks leading to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned on Friday that anyone who provokes war on the Korean Peninsula will assume responsibility and pay the price. The minister made the remarks during a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, that if war occurs, “the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner”.
The Chinese minister urged all parties to suspend their weapon trials and military manoeuvres as a preliminary step to resuming dialogue.
North Korea denounced the United States for bringing “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region as the Carl Vinson strike group with a flag-ship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier steamed closer, and said it stood ready to strike back.
“The Trump administration, which made a surprise guided cruise-missile strike on Syria on April 6, has entered the path of open threat and blackmail,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted the military as saying in a statement.
“The army and people of the DPRK will as ever courageously counter those who encroach upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and will always mercilessly ravage all provocative options of the US with Korean-style toughest counteraction.”
North Korea, still technically at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, has on occasion conducted missile or nuclear tests to coincide with big political events and often threatens the United States, South Korea and Japan.
On Saturday, it marks the “Day of the Sun”, the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung.
US ally South Korea warned against any North Korean “provocation”, such as a nuclear or missile test.
“There is certain to be powerful punitive measure that will be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure,” the South’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
While Trump has put North Korea on notice that he will not tolerate any more provocation, US officials have said his administration is focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions.
Trump said on Thursday North Korea was a problem that “will be taken care of” and he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping would “work very hard” to help resolve it.
Trump has also said the United States is prepared to tackle the crisis without China, if necessary.
He diverted the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its strike group towards the Korean peninsula last weekend in a show of force.
Trump has also been pressing China to do more to rein in North Korea.
China banned all imports of North Korean coal on February 26 under UN sanctions, cutting off the North’s most important export, and on Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said national airline Air China was suspending flights to Pyongyang.
It did not say why the flights, which operate on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, were being suspended.
Worry about North Korean aggression has also led to a deterioration of ties between China and South Korea because China objects to the deployment of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in the South.
“It’s not hard to see that ever since the United States and Republic of Korea decided to deploy THAAD, the situation has not become harmonious but has become more tense,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, said in response to a question about the system.
— Reuters