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China urges North Korea peninsula denuclearization

ATHENS: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, speaks next to his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias during a press conference after a meeting with his Greek counterpart yesterday in Athens.-AFP

ATHENS: China’s foreign minister called yesterday for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula amid rising tension over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. “China is firmly supporting the denuclearization of the area in the name of stability and peace”, Wang Yi told reporters in Athens after meeting Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias. “China may not have the key to this solution … but we are happy that more sides are accepting our point of view”, he added.

US President Donald Trump has urged China to take stronger steps to press the North to curb its nuclear and missile programs. During a regional tour last week, Vice-President Mike Pence warned that “all options are on the table” to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions, as fears grow it may be planning another atomic test. Pyongyang has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks, threatening to hit back against any provocation.

Serious threat

It has also renewed threats against regional US allies, including Japan and South Korea, which both host large American military contingents. Even Australia has received a warning from Pyongyang. “If Australia persists in following the US’s moves to isolate and stifle North Korea… this will be a suicidal act,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the nation a “serious threat”.

Yesterday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that a US citizen had been arrested as he tried to fly out of North Korea, becoming the third American to be detained there. “It is important for them to hold a US citizen hostage at this point to prevent Washington from carrying out a decapitation of Kim Jong-Un,” Ahn  Chan-il, a former defector, said, referring to the North’s fears that the US plans a secret military strike to topple its leader. “It’s also a resolve to point a double-action revolver against the US and China because he is a US citizen who worked in China.”

Australia, New Zealand hit back

Australia and New Zealand stiffened their rhetoric against North Korea yesterday after the isolated state threatened Canberra with a nuclear strike, urging it to think twice before “blindly and zealously toeing the US line.” The move comes as US Vice President Mike Pence wraps up an Asia tour, which has included visits to South Korea, Japan and Australia partly to reassure allies amid fears that Pyongyang may be readying for a sixth nuclear test.

“If Australia persists in following the US’ moves to isolate and stifle North Korea… this will be a suicidal act,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the hermit state a “serious threat.” The spokesman, speaking to the North’s official KCNA news agency, warned Bishop to “think twice about the consequences.” Australia’s close ally New Zealand has since accused North Korea of having “evil intent”.

Defense Minister Gerry Brownlee told Television New Zealand yesterday people knew little about Kim Jong-Un’s regime but “you would assume that underneath him there is a very big machinery of people who have equally evil intent.” “It’s North Korea that is sending the missiles into the Sea of Japan and making the various outrageous threats including the threats overnight to Australia,” he added. Australia’s Bishop added yesterday that the North Korean government “should invest in the welfare of its long-suffering citizens, rather than weapons of mass destruction.”

All-out war

The reclusive state has long been seeking to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five atomic tests, two of them last year. Pence vowed Wednesday that the US would counter any attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response after a senior North Korean official pledged weekly missile tests and “all-out war” if the US took any action against it.

In Sydney, Pence maintained calls for Pyongyang’s sole ally China to do more to rein in its neighbor. Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also urged China to use its leverage over the hermit state, describing the North Korean regime as “reckless and dangerous.” He added that Australia and the US were “absolutely united” in their determination to achieve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Super carrier Carl Vinson is due to start joint exercises with Japan’s navy yesterday, Tokyo’s defense ministry said, with the drills expected to last several days and involve two Japanese warships. – AFP

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