China urges halt to missile tests and military drills

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Foreign Minister against N. Korea launches, US-S. Korea exercises

China has called on North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile tests, and South Korea and the United States to stop their joint military exercises to avoid what could be a "head-on collision".

Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday characterised North Korea's nuclear programme and missile tests on one side and the annual US-South Korea drills on the other as "two accelerating trains coming towards each other".

To defuse the "looming crisis" of a "head-on collision", Beijing proposes that Pyongyang suspend its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for Seoul and Washington halting their large-scale exercises.

After this first step, the two sides could take a dual-track approach of a denuclearisation process coupled with the building of a peace mechanism, Mr Wang said at a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing annual parliamentary session.

North Korea fired four ballistic missiles on Monday in response to the ongoing US-South Korea drills.

DANGERS AHEAD

The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other, with neither side willing to give way. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision? Our priority now is to flash a red light and apply brakes on both trains.

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER WANG YI, on how actions and moves by North Korea, the US and South Korea may get out of control.

Tension has risen on the Korean peninsula in recent years as the number and frequency of nuclear and missile tests increased. Last year, Pyongyang conducted 24 missile launches and two nuclear tests in defiance of sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

China has called for talks repeatedly but the US under former president Barack Obama preferred a policy of "strategic patience", waiting for the North to denuclearise while pressuring it through economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Mr Wang yesterday also criticised the deployment of the advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system in South Korea, the first elements of which arrived on Monday night.

He said it undermined China's strategic security interests.

However, outgoing US Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel said on Tuesday that while the US fully expects China to always act to safeguard its security interests, "China (had) better give us and give (South Korea) the same right".

Mr Wang fielded a series of wide- ranging questions, including one on Sino-US ties under new US President Donald Trump.

Mr Wang noted that through intense communication, the Sino-US relationship is moving steadily in a positive direction.

He pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Trump in their phone conversation last month "affirmed the importance of upholding the 'one China' principle", signalling the importance Beijing attaches to this as a basis for bilateral relations.

Mr Trump had soon after his election questioned the US' nearly four- decade-old "one China" policy which recognises Beijing as the sole government of China and acknowledges Beijing's "one China" principle that there is only one China in the world and that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to it.

Noting that the two sides had a growing set of common interests, Mr Wang said "we should pool our efforts to enlarge our shared interest, rather than building one's success at the expense of the other".

On whether China would seek global leadership as the US under Mr Trump took a more isolationist path, Mr Wang said China would shoulder more responsibility and contribute to world peace and growth. "China believes in the equality of all countries, large and small, and we don't believe some countries should lead others."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'China urges halt to missile tests and military drills'. Print Edition | Subscribe