SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea approved a plan on Thursday to send $8 million worth of aid to North Korea, as China warned the crisis on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington continued.
North Korea’s foreign minister on Thursday likened U.S. President Donald Trump to a “barking dog”, after Trump warned he would “totally destroy” the North if it threatened the United States and its allies.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the situation on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and cannot be allowed to spin out of control.
“We call on all parties to be calmer than calm and not let the situation escalate out of control,” Wang said, according to a report from the state-run China News Service on Thursday.
The decision to send aid to North Korea was not popular in South Korea, hitting President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating, raised concerns in Japan and the United States, and follows new U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.
The South’s Unification Ministry said its aid policy remains unaffected by geopolitical tensions with the North. The exact timing of when the aid will be sent, as well as its size, will be confirmed later, the ministry said in a statement.
The South said it aims to send $4.5 million worth of nutritional products for children and pregnant women through the World Food Programme and $3.5 million worth of vaccines and medicinal treatments through UNICEF.
“We have consistently said we would pursue humanitarian aid for North Korea in consideration of the poor conditions children and pregnant women are in there, apart from political issues,” said Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon.
Ahead of the decision, UNICEF’s regional director for East Asia and the Pacific Karin Hulshof said in a statement the problems North Korean children face “are all too real”.
“Today, we estimate that around 200,000 children are affected by acute malnutrition, heightening their risk of death and increasing rates of stunting,” Hulshof said.
“Food and essential medicines and equipment to treat young children are in short supply.”
The last time the South had sent aid to the North was in December 2015 through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under ex-president Park Geun-hye.
South Korea’s efforts aimed at fresh aid for North Korea has dragged down Moon’s approval rating. Realmeter, a South Korean polling organization, said on Thursday Moon’s approval rating stood at 65.7 percent, weakening for a fourth straight month.
Although the approval rate is still high, those surveyed said Moon had fallen out of favor due to North Korea’s continued provocations and the government’s decision to consider sending aid to North Korea, Realmeter said.
Moon will meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump later on Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where North Korea is expected to be the core agenda.
In an address on Tuesday, Trump escalated his standoff with North Korea over its nuclear challenge, threatening to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if the North threatened the United States and its allies.
Trump also mocked its leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “rocket man”.
North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho called Trump’s comments “the sound of a dog barking”.
“There is a saying that goes: ‘Even when dogs bark, the parade goes on’,” said Ri in televised remarks to reporters in front of a hotel near the U.N. headquarters in New York.
“If (Trump) was thinking about surprising us with dog-barking sounds then he is clearly dreaming.”
When asked by reporters what he thought of Trump calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket man”, Ri quipped, “I feel sorry for his aides.”
North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test early this month while it has launched numerous missiles this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles and two other rockets that have flown over Japan.
Such provocations have sparked strong disapproval from the international community, especially from the United States and Japan.
SEOUL, South Korea — The US flew four F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula on Monday in a show of force after North Korea’s latest nuclear and missile tests, South Korea’s defense ministry said.
The flight was to “demonstrate the deterrence capability of the US-South Korea alliance against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the ministry said in a statement.
They were the first flights since the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3 and staged an intermediate-range missile test over Japan last Friday, sending regional tensions soaring.
The US jets few alongside four South Korean F-15K jet fighters as part of “routine” training, the statement said, adding that the allies would continue such exercises to “improve their joint operation capabilities against contingencies.”
The previous such flights were on August 31.
Separately, China and Russia began a joint naval exercise east of the Korean peninsula.
The drill will be held in waters between the Russian port of Vladivostok and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, further north, the Chinese defence ministry said.
The purpose of the exercise was not immediately clear and the ministry did not indicate its duration.
The UN Security Council last week imposed a fresh set of sanctions on North Korea over its missile and atomic weapons programmes, though Washington toned down its original proposals to secure support from China and Russia.
Moscow backs Beijing’s proposal for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korea military drills which China blames for fanning regional tensions.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has rejected the proposal as “insulting” and said it was time to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea by enacting the “strongest possible measures.”
North Korea’s weapons drive is set to dominate US President Donald Trump’s address to the UN General Assembly later Monday and his meetings with South Korean and Japanese leaders this week.
Tensions flared when Kim Jong-Un’s regime tested what it termed a hydrogen bomb many times more powerful than its previous device.
The North also fired a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific last Friday, responding to the new UN sanctions with what appeared to be its longest-ever missile flight.
Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-In spoke by phone Saturday and vowed to exert “stronger pressure” on the North, with Moon’s office warning that further provocation would put it on a “path of collapse”.
Trump has also not ruled out a military option, which could leave millions of people in the South Korean capital — and 28,500 US soldiers stationed in the South — vulnerable to potential retaliatory attack.
Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has said the US would “have to prepare all options” if sanctions prove insufficient to stop the North’s weapons drive.
SEOUL — South Korea’s navy held major live-fire drills Tuesday to warn the North against any provocations at sea, it said, two days after Pyongyang’s biggest nuclear test to date.
The drills, conducted in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), involved the 2,500-ton frigate Gangwon, a 1,000-ton patrol ship and 400-ton guided-missile vessels, among others, the Navy said in a statement.
“If the enemy launches a provocation above water or under water, we will immediately hit back to bury them at sea,” Captain Choi Young-chan, commander of the 13th Maritime Battle Group, said in a statement.
North Korea on Sunday triggered global alarm with by far its most powerful atomic test to date, claiming it was a hydrogen bomb that could be mounted onto a long-range missile.
On Monday the South’s military launched a volley of ballistic missiles simulating an attack on the North’s nuclear test site.
US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s leader Moon Jae-In agreed during a phone call late Monday to remove limits on the payload of the South’s missiles, fixed at 500 kilograms according to a 2001 bilateral agreement.
Trump also said he was willing to approve the sale of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea,” according to a statement released by the White House.
Tensions have mounted on the Korean peninsula following a series of missile launches by the North, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that apparently brought much of the US mainland into range.
A day after Pyongyang detonated its largest ever nuclear test explosion, South Korea’s Defense Ministry also said Monday that North Korea appeared to be planning a future missile launch, possibly of an ICBM, to show off its claimed ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons.
The Associated Press reported that Chang Kyung-soo, an official with South Korea’s Defense Ministry, told lawmakers that Seoul was seeing preparations in the North for an ICBM test but didn’t provide details about how officials had reached that assessment. Chang also said the yield from the latest nuclear detonation appeared to be about 50 kilotons, which would mark a “significant increase” from North Korea’s past nuclear tests.
However, a South Korean military official later told NBC News that Chang’s briefing “was pointing out that North Korea is always ready for the next ballistic missile launch and this does not mean that the South Korean military is expecting another ballistic missile launch at a given set time.”
China also warned North Korea against launching another ballistic missile, saying it should not worsen tensions.
South Korea’s military said its live-fire exercise was meant to “strongly warn” Pyongyang. The drill involved F-15 fighter jets and the country’s land-based “Hyunmoo” ballistic missiles firing into the Sea of Japan.
The target was set considering the distance to the North’s test site and the exercise was aimed at practicing precision strikes and cutting off reinforcements, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.
Kim Jong Un has been very open about his regime’s ambitions. North Korea regularly issues apocalyptic warnings to the U.S. and its allies. Last month, the regime’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the U.S. would be “catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire” if it imposed more sanctions or threatened military action. In May, the paper said the North was “waiting for the moment it will reduce the whole of the U.S. mainland to ruins” after President Donald Trump dispatched a naval strike group to the region.
Such threats have been a staple of Kim’s regime since he took power after his father’s death in 2011.
Asked by a reporter on Sunday if he would attack the North, Trump said: “We’ll see.” No U.S. military action appeared imminent, and the immediate focus appeared to be on ratcheting up economic penalties, which have had little effect thus far.
In briefs remarks after a White House meeting with Trump and other national security officials, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that America does not seek the “total annihilation” of the North, but then added somberly, “We have many options to do so.”
Some experts say the president now finds himself boxed in with only one real option: negotiate with a brutal dictatorship that’s one of the world’s most oppressive human-rights abusers.
“This looks like the only option here,” according to Professor Hazel Smith at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a university in London more commonly known as SOAS. “There needs to be some very brave diplomacy — diplomacy with a regime that for good reason is considered abhorrent.”
Whether the colorful characters leading Washington and Pyongyang have the appetite for this course of action remains to be seen.
Certain members of Trump’s administration have appeared more open to the idea of talks, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying last month that “we’re trying to convey to the North Koreans, ‘We are not your enemy, we are not your threat.'”
But Trump and Kim have more often favored threats and demands over nuance and olive branches.
Trump’s tweet following Sunday’s test exemplified his approach, saying: “appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said that “there’s no evidence that North Korea is ready to talk and not much from Donald Trump either.”
In fact, North Korea did actually appear to suggest last month that it was open to getting rid of its nukes and rockets “if the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”
But all the while, the threats and missile tests and fiery propaganda have kept coming.
So how did we get to a place where the world’s biggest economy and most powerful military has so few options in dealing with an impoverished pariah state with few allies?
Firstly, a military strike against North Korea would be chaotic and bloody. If the U.S. launched an offensive, the North would almost certainly provoke a devastating retaliation against America’s ally of South Korea.
Even with conventional, non-nuclear weapons, North Korea could launch a barrage of missiles against the South’s capital of Seoul, and the wider conflict could see “millions of casualties and probably millions of deaths,” according to Smith at SOAS, author of “North Korea: Markets and Military Rule.”
These dire consequences caused Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to conclude last month that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea], forget it.”
While Trump has certainly talked tough — threatening North Korea with “fire” and “fury” among other things — these ultimatums have rarely if ever been backed up with action.
And some analysts say these hollow warnings have only emboldened North Korea.
“The United States has not mounted a coherent and visible response to several thresholds that have been crossed,” Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told MSNBC on Sunday.
When North Korea achieved several important milestones in its weapons program, such as test-firing two intercontinental ballistic missiles, this “did not provoke a specific response from the Trump administration,” Mount said. “That’s been a mistake and quite frankly it’s allowed these missile tests to continue.”
Nilsson-Wright, who is also a senior lecturer at Cambridge University, agreed.
“It seems that Donald Trump’s tactic of using rhetorical brinkmanship is not working and failing pretty dramatically,” he said.
The other option open to the international community is more sanctions.
But as Smith at SOAS pointed out, “sanctions are not a policy in and of themselves. The question is, what do you want them to actually achieve?”
Judging by North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile capabilities, the measures imposed so far have been unsuccessful in halting the regime’s technological advance. In addition “any food sanctions would be directly affecting 25 million people who are living in one of the poorest countries in the world,” Smith said.
Military conflict and sanctions aside, that leaves the option of negotiation.
Despite North Korea’s appalling human-rights record, any talks would be “a good thing and an important thing to consider,” according to Nilsson-Wright.
North Korea is unlikely to launch a preemptive attack on the U.S. or its allies, but its weapons program worries analysts because of the scope for miscalculation and miscommunication from both sides.
Entering into diplomatic talks with historical enemies is nothing new. In 1997, British Prime Minister Tony Blair started negotiations with the Irish Republican Army, a banned terrorist group that committed waves of attacks against civilians and the U.K. government.
There’s also precedent between the U.S. and North Korea. In 1994, three years before Blair shook the hands of IRA leaders, former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang to persuade the regime to negotiate with Bill Clinton over its nuclear program.
“These gestures at the 11th hour can sometimes work, but I haven’t seen any sign that Donald Trump is willing to do something as bold as that,” Nilsson-Wright said.
SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday US President Donald Trump has promised to seek Seoul’s approval before pursuing any option against nuclear-armed North Korea.
Trump’s recent aggressive comments about deploying possible military options underscored his resolve to counter the threat from the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
However, they do not appear to have been made with the intention to take military action, Moon said at a news conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Moon urged North Korea not to make further provocations, saying it would face much tougher sanctions that the impoverished country would be unable to withstand if it persists with its nuclear weapons development.
SEOUL, South Korea — The United States agreed to start negotiations to allow South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles in order to counter North Korea’s fast-advancing missile technologies, the office of the South’s president said on Saturday.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, long considered a dovish leader, called for arms buildup talks with Washington hours after the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that experts said had a range long enough to reach the West Coast of the United States and potentially target Chicago and New York. The White House quickly accepted the proposal, his office said.
Mr. Moon’s top national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, called his White House counterpart, Gen. H.R. McMaster, early on Saturday to propose that the allies immediately start negotiations to allow South Korea to build up its missile capabilities. Seven hours later, General McMaster confirmed that Washington accepted the proposal, said Mr. Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan.
There was no immediate confirmation of the exchange from the White House.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr. Moon also ordered his government to cooperate with the United States to install an advanced American missile defense battery known as Thaad, whose deployment in South Korea had been suspended since he took office in May.
Mr. Moon’s actions signaled that the growing missile threat from North Korea was spurring an arms buildup in Northeast Asia. Japan earlier said that it was considering buying ballistic missile defense systems from the United States.
But China has adamantly opposed installing the Thaad missile defense system in South Korea, arguing that it would only makes tensions with North Korea more volatile and could undermine China’s own nuclear deterrent by giving the United States another means to monitor its missiles.
On Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the resumed deployment of Thaad, in a statement that was slightly longer, and in some ways more strongly worded, than its statement earlier in the day criticizing North Korea’s missile test.
“China is gravely concerned with the course of action taken by South Korea,” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, said in the statement. “Deploying Thaad won’t solve South Korea’s security concerns, won’t solve the related issues on the Korean Peninsula and will only further complicate issues.”
Missile analysts remain uncertain and even doubtful that North Korea has cleared all the technical hurdles to build a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM. But the test on Friday night left little doubt that the country, although cut off from most of the global economy and hit with several rounds of United Nations sanctions, was getting closer to its goal of arming itself with long-range missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.
South Korea fears that by building nuclear missiles that can reach major American cities, North Korea is trying to weaken the United States’ resolve over whether to intervene on the South’s behalf should war break out on the Korean Peninsula.
On Saturday, Mr. Moon called for strengthening South Korea’s deterrence capabilities, while stressing the importance of the military alliance with the United States.
“We must actively look for measures to secure our military’s own forces to deter and effectively deal with North Korea’s nuclear threats,” Mr. Moon said after an emergency meeting of his National Security Council on Saturday.
South Korea wants to build ballistic missiles that can deliver more powerful payloads to targets in North Korea, including the location of its leadership and its missile and nuclear sites, most of which are hidden deep underground, defense officials here said. A key hurdle to the South Korean ambition has been a treaty the South signed with Washington in the 1970s in return for American help in building its missiles.
Under the deal, South Korea is allowed to build ballistic missiles with a range of up to 497 miles but is barred from tipping them with warheads weighing more than 500 kilograms, or half a ton, because of concerns about a regional arms race. South Korea wants to double the upper limit of the payload to a ton, officials here said.
(South Korea can already load warheads weighing up to two tons on ballistic missiles with shorter ranges, but those missiles cannot reach key missile bases in northern North Korea.)
The South Korean demands reflected growing regional jitters over how the North’s growing missile capabilities may affect Washington’s defense commitment to its allies in the region. On Saturday, Mr. Moon warned that the latest North Korean test could lead to “a fundamental change in the security structure in Northeast Asia.”
“U.S. policy for 21 years has been to prevent this day from coming, and now it has,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, referring to the North’s ICBM test on Friday.
“North Korea didn’t test an ICBM to launch a bolt from the blue against Washington; they’re hoping to split the United States from its allies.”
Barry Pavel, director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, said North Korea could use a nuclear-tipped ICBM capability to “target the United States and deter U.S. security cooperation with its close Asian allies.”
“Once it is assured that it has a ‘nuclear shield,’ North Korea is likely to act much more aggressively in every other area of its foreign and military policies,” said Mr. Pavel. In “Rolling Back the Growing North Korean Threat,” the Atlantic Council’s memo to Mr. Trump published last month, Mr. Pavel and the co-author Robert A. Manning said that such North Korean aggressions could include “increasingly dangerous provocations and the sale of weapons of mass destruction to other nations and terrorist groups for much-needed cash.”
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Friday reaffirmed that the United States “will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea nor abandon our commitment to our allies and partners in the region.” At the United Nations Security Council, Washington is urging China and Russia to agree to a new set of economic sanctions against North Korea, including severely curtailing the country’s access to oil supplies from the outside.
China and Russia supply nearly all of North Korea’s oil imports and also host tens of thousands of the North workers. A bulk of the workers’ earnings end up in the coffers of the North Korean leadership, according to human rights groups and defectors.
”As the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development program, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability,” Mr. Tillerson said.
But there is a growing frustration over China’s reluctance to use its economic leverage to rein in the North’s nuclear ambitions and over Washington’s inability to persuade Beijing. China accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, but it fears the collapse of the Communist government on its border more than a nuclear armed-North Korea.
Mr. Moon acted on such frustration when he decided on Saturday to reverse his decision to suspend the deployment of Thaad, the American missile defense battery. China has vehemently opposed the arrival of a powerful American antimissile radar on its doorstep. Many of Mr. Moon’s progressive domestic supporters have also opposed the deployment, calling it a dangerous escalation of tensions in the region.
One of the first things Mr. Moon did after taking office was to suspend the Thaad deployment until a study of an environmental impact of the deployment is completed.
”China has weakened its own rationale for opposing the Thaad deployment by failing to use its unique influence with North Korea to stop its second ICBM test,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, a think-tank in South Korea.
North Korea first tested its ICBM, the Hwasong-14, on July 4, although in that earlier launching, North Korea didn’t demonstrate the missile’s full range.
Mr. Cheong said that South Korea and the United States could reconsider the Thaad deployment only if China helped denuclearize North Korea by stopping oil shipments, sending North Korean workers home and cracking down on cross-border smuggling that helps keep the North Korean economy running. North Korea remained defiant.
“The U.S. trumpeting about war and extreme sanctions and threat against the D.P.R.K. only emboldens the latter and offers a better excuse for its access to nukes,” said the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, after watching the missile test on Friday.
North Korea will conduct more ICBM tests to secure and demonstrate an ability to deliver a warhead through the Earth’s atmosphere, said Kim Dong-yub, a missile expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
Missile experts said that one of the last hurdles North Korea must clear is the so-called re-entry technology that allows a warhead to survive intense heat and the destruction of its outer shell as it plunges through the atmosphere from space. Mr. Kim said that in future tests, the North might try to demonstrate an ability to detonate a warhead after it has survived re-entry.
A man looks at images depicting missile launches and military exercises, on a display board in Pyongyang earlier this week.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
North Korea has launched “one unidentified missile” from its northern Jagang province, the South Korean Defense Ministry announced in a statement. The Pentagon confirmed to NPR that it has also identified a missile launch from the North.
Citing the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, The Associated Press reports the missile “flew for about 45 minutes and appeared to have landed in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”
There have been no immediate reports of damage, and it was not immediately clear what type of missile the North was testing.
The missile launch follows a string of tests by the North Korean regime this year, the most recent of which came earlier this month. That test marked a milestone for Pyongyang: a successful intercontinental missile launch.
“Testing an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region and the world,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement at the time. “Global action is required to stop a global threat.”
It also comes less than two weeks after the South Korean government made a rare diplomatic overture to Pyongyang, seeking new military talks with Kim Jong Un’s regime. That offer was never accepted.
Much of the international community has long tried another tack to slow North Korea’s weapons program: sanctions for violating international law with its missile tests. But NPR’s Elise Hu notes that approach has proven less successful than hoped for:
“Despite ‘tough-on-paper’ sanctions designed to stop the flow of nuclear weapons material into North Korea as well as to deliver economic punishment on the regime, the latest research shows the numerous countries expected to enforce the sanctions aren’t doing so. The reasons the sanctions have fallen short include: The sanctions are too complicated to implement, private businesses independently aid North Korea (knowingly or not), and Pyongyang has grown increasingly deft in evading sanctions as it has become more isolated.”
The long-running animus between North Korea, its neighbors and the U.S. has only escalated in recent weeks, with the rivals trading increasingly barbed words.
North Korea is “the single most dangerous threat facing the international community right now,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told the National Press Club on Thursday. “It is clear, based on [the ICBM launch] over the July 4 weekend, that North Korea has advanced significantly and quicker than many had expected.”
He added that North Korea’s military threat is “the one thing I’m worried about.”
“A war on the Korean peninsula would be highly deadly. It would be horrific,” Milley said. “The United States military, in combination with the South Korean military, would utterly destroy the North Korean military — but that would be done at high cost in terms of human life.”
BEIJING — The U.S. army and the South Korean military responded to North Korea’s July 4 test missile test by hosting joint military exercises, firing missiles off the eastern coast of South Korea in what Pacific Command called an “ironclad” show of resolve.
The move came shortly after the U.S. confirmed that North Korea’s July 4 launch was indeed an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Japanese and South Korean authorities delivered the same assessment, with Seoul reporting that the two-stage missiles has a range of about 4,300 to 5,000 miles.
South Korea’s Defense Minister said in a Wednesday morning briefing that there is “high possibility” Pyongyang will stage another nuclear test and noted gains in their efforts to miniaturize a warhead — both steps toward developing nuclear-tipped weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took the chance to tout the launch and taunt President Donald Trump, calling the missile an Independence Day gift, according to North Korean state media, and hinting at more tests to come.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for “global action” to stop that and the United States, South Korea and Japan have requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations security council for Wednesday.
While everyone seems to agree the July 4 test is a game-changer, the world seems as split as ever over what to do next, a diplomatic impasse set to test President Donald Trump.
As president-elect, Trump said North Korea’s plan to develop an ICBM capable of hitting the United States “won’t happen” and has since made tough talk on the issue a signature.
Trump must now weigh how to recalibrate his strategy as it becomes increasingly clear that the United States and its allies have different plans and priorities than China and, now, Russia.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, Beijing and Moscow called for a “double suspension” that would see Pyongyang freeze its weapon program and the U.S. and South Korea stop joint military exercises.
Not long after, the U.S. and South Korea were firing missiles off the Korean coast.
“It’s quite obvious that China and Russia’s suggestion of dual-suspension is different from the approach taken by the U.S. and its Japanese and South Korean ally,” said Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based expert on North Korea and its relationship with China.
“On the Korean Peninsular issues,” he said, “Two opposing blocs have been formed.”
A world divided over a North Korean ICBM test is not what Trump had in mind.
Since taking office, Trump has focused his efforts and remarks on getting China to pressure North Korea to back down, in part by choking of the regime’s access to resources.
This idea formed the basis of talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-lago in April, where Washington and Beijing appeared to put aside differences in the name of cooperation on North Korea and trade.
That arrangement seems to be failing fast. In recent weeks, there have been signs that Trump is frustrated with China’s progress. On June 21, he tweeted: “It has not worked out.”
On Tuesday, as news of the North Korean test broke, but before missile was confirmed to be an ICBM, the president vented again. “Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” he wrote.
“Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” He did not say what type of move he hoped for.
The focus on Chinese efforts has exasperated Beijing, which insists it has done its part to pressure Pyongyang and resents being singled out.
“The international community has no solutions,” said Song Xiaojun, who used to run a government linked-military magazine. “The U.S. wants to transfer the burdens to China.”
Both foreign and Chinese analysts expressed frustration that the United States did not seem focused on getting North Korea to the table.
“The first obvious step is talking to them, that’s just kind diplomacy 101,” said John Delury, an assistant professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University.
“Obama didn’t do enough about that either,” he added. “There has been a severe drought of talking at a high level with North Koreans,” he said.
The problem is that the U.S. thinks that dialogue is a reward for North Korea,” he added. “That’s a misguided concept.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing would push for dialogue at the United Nations. “We hope the relevant discussions of the North Korea nuclear issue focus on dialogue, negotiation, and peaceful settlement as soon as possible,” he said.
Dan Lamothe reported from Washington; Shirley Feng, Luna Lin and Yang Liu reported from Beijing.
South Korea said on Wednesday it wanted to reopen communications with North Korea as new President Moon Jae-in seeks a two-track policy involving sanctions and dialogue with its reclusive neighbor to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland and has ignored calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally.
Its latest ballistic missile launch, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, was on Sunday which it said was a test of its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, drawing Security Council condemnation.
“Our most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should open,” Lee Duk-haeng, a spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry, told reporters. “The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet.”
Communications were severed by the North last year, Lee said, in the wake of new sanctions following North Korea’s last nuclear test and Pyongyang’s decision to shut down a joint industrial zone operated inside the North.
North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programs as necessary to counter U.S. hostility.
Moon won an election last week campaigning on a more moderate approach to the North and said after taking office that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure to stop the North’s weapons programs.
Moon’s envoy to the United States, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, left for Washington early on Wednesday. Hong said he would discuss North Korea with high-ranking officials in Washington.
Hong said South Korea had not yet received official word from the United States on whether Seoul should pay for an anti-missile U.S. radar system that has been deployed outside Seoul.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system which detected Sunday’s launch.
China has strongly opposed THAAD, saying it can spy into its territory, and South Korean companies have been hit in China by a nationalist backlash over the deployment.
The United States said on Tuesday it believed it could persuade China to impose new U.N. sanctions on North Korea and warned that Washington would also target and “call out” countries supporting Pyongyang.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also made clear that Washington would only talk to North Korea once it halted its nuclear program.
Trump has called for an immediate halt to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests and U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday that China’s leverage was key and Beijing could do more.
Trump warned this month that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible, and in a show of force, sent the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to Korean waters to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea elected Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer who favors dialogue with North Korea, as president on Tuesday, returning the nation’s liberals to power after nearly a decade in the political wilderness and setting up a potential rift with the United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
His victory caps a remarkable national drama in which a corruption scandal, mass protests and impeachment forced a South Korean president from office for the first time in almost 60 years, leaving the conservative establishment in disarray and its former leader in jail.
Mr. Moon, 64, a son of North Korean refugees, faces the challenge of enacting changes to limit the power of big business and address the abuses uncovered in his predecessor’s downfall. He must also make good on his promise of a new approach to North Korea while balancing relations with the United States and China.
His election immediately scrambles the geopolitics over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Even as the Trump administration urges the world to step up pressure on Pyongyang, it now faces the prospect of a critical ally — one with the most at stake in any conflict with the North — breaking ranks and adopting a more conciliatory approach.
In a nationally televised speech before cheering supporters, Mr. Moon declared that he would “be a president for all the people.” He said he would work with political rivals to create a country where “justice rules and common sense prevails.”
With all ballots counted on Wednesday morning, Mr. Moon was in first place with 41 percent of the vote, according to the National Election Commission. He was followed by Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative who had pledged a tough stance against North Korea, with 24 percent, and Ahn Cheol-soo, a centrist, with 21 percent.
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Moon does not have a two-month transition period. He will take office on Wednesday.
Mr. Moon’s position on North Korea is a sharp departure from that of his two immediate predecessors, conservatives who tended to view anything less than strict enforcement of sanctions against the North as ideologically suspect.
While he condemned “the ruthless dictatorial regime of North Korea” during his campaign, Mr. Moon also argued that South Korea must “embrace the North Korean people to achieve peaceful reunification one day.”
“To do that, we must recognize Kim Jong-un as their ruler and as our dialogue partner,” he said. “The goal of sanctions must be to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.”
David Straub, a former director of Korean affairs at the State Department and a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul, warned of “serious policy differences between the U.S. and South Korean presidents” over North Korea and related issues. He added that these differences could lead to “significantly increased popular dissatisfaction with the United States in South Korea.”
China, on the other hand, is likely to welcome Mr. Moon’s election, which may make it easier for it to deflect pressure from the United States to get tough on North Korea and strengthen its argument that Washington must address the North’s concerns about security.
Some analysts say Mr. Moon’s victory could lower the temperature of the North Korean standoff, prompting Washington and Pyongyang to pause and assess the effect of the new government in Seoul on their policies. Satellite images indicate that the North has been preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test, and the Trump administration has engaged in a heated campaign of implied threats and military posturing to stop it.
Mr. Moon’s view of North Korea echoes the approach of the two liberal presidents who held power from 1998 to 2008 and pursued a so-called sunshine policy toward the North that included diplomatic talks, family reunions and joint economic projects, such as the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea, near the demilitarized zone.
But that era was punctuated by the North’s first nuclear test, conducted in 2006, and much has changed on the Korean Peninsula since.
With four more tests under its belt, each more powerful than the last, and a rapidly advancing ballistic missile program, North Korea poses a greater threat to the South and appears to be closing in on nuclear arms capable of striking the United States. Mr. Moon also faces a mercurial adversary in Mr. Kim, 33, who took power in Pyongyang after the death of his father in late 2011.
Critics say any effort by Mr. Moon to revive the sunshine policy — perhaps by reopening Kaesong, which his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hye, shut last year — would give North Korea a lifeline it could use to reduce its economic dependence on China, weakening Beijing’s leverage over it and strengthening Mr. Kim’s hand.
The American missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, presents another test for Mr. Moon. It went into operation last week, and Mr. Moon has complained that its deployment was rushed to present him with a fait accompli. But if he tries to undo it, he could strain the alliance with Washington while leaving the impression of bowing to Chinese pressure.
That could be politically fatal in South Korea, where the public, across the political spectrum, is wary of the country appearing too deferential to big powers. Many South Koreans complained that the United States had foisted Thaad on their nation, but they also fumed about retaliatory economic measures taken by China in response to its deployment.
Acknowledging the complexity of the challenges he faces, Mr. Moon has been careful to say that when he promised to review the Thaad deployment, he did not necessarily mean he would reverse it.
And while he has said South Korea must “learn to say no” to Washington, he has emphasized that any diplomatic overture toward North Korea will be grounded in the South’s alliance with the United States. He has also often expressed gratitude to the United States for protecting the South from Communism and supporting its transformation into a prosperous democracy.
Mr. Moon’s parents fled Communist rule during the Korean War and were among tens of thousands evacuated from the North Korean port of Hungnam by retreating American Navy vessels in the winter of 1950. They often told him about the Christmas sweets that American troops handed out to those packed into the ships during the journey.
Mr. Moon was born in January 1953, after his parents had resettled in a refugee camp on an island off the southern coast of South Korea. His father was a handyman, and his mother peddled eggs, coal briquettes and black-market American relief goods.
Asked by the newspaper Dong-A Ilbo what he would do with a crystal ball, Mr. Moon said last month that he would show his 90-year-old mother what her North Korean hometown looked like now and how her relatives there were faring. “If Korea reunifies, the first thing I would do is to take my mother’s hand and visit her hometown,” he said. “Perhaps I could retire there as a lawyer.”
In the 1980s, Mr. Moon defended student and labor activists persecuted under military rule and forged a lifelong friendship with a fellow lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun. When Mr. Roh was elected president in 2002, declaring that he would be the first South Korean president not to “kowtow to the Americans,” Mr. Moon served as his chief of staff.
Many of the misgivings that conservatives have about Mr. Moon stem from his association with Mr. Roh. But some former American officials who dealt with the Roh government recall Mr. Moon as more practical and flexible than other officials. In his memoir, Mr. Moon defended Mr. Roh’s decision to sign a trade agreement with the United States and dispatch troops to Iraq over the protests of Mr. Roh’s liberal political base.
Mr. Roh completed his five-year term in 2008 and committed suicide the next year as prosecutors investigated corruption allegations against his family.
“It was the most painful day in my life,” Mr. Moon wrote in his memoir, describing his friend’s death as “tantamount to a political murder” and blaming a political vendetta by a new conservative government that wanted to discredit him.
Mr. Moon entered the 2012 presidential race vowing to finish Mr. Roh’s work by fighting corruption, the influence of the country’s family-owned conglomerates, and what he called “politically motivated prosecutors” — and by seeking peace with North Korea.
But he narrowly lost to Ms. Park, the daughter of the South Korean military strongman Park Chung-hee, and spent the next four years as a leader of the opposition.
In a recent interview, Mr. Moon recalled how he visited Mr. Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the sunshine policy, shortly before Mr. Kim died in 2009.
Mr. Kim was so feeble by then that he had to be fed by his wife, and he was heartbroken. He had devoted much of his career to building trust with North Korea through humanitarian and economic aid, and the conservatives in power were dismantling that legacy and embracing sanctions against the North.
“President Kim said he could not believe his eyes,” Mr. Moon recalled. “In what I thought was his dying wish, he asked us to take the government back.”