Seoul warns of unprecedented response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol warned of an unprecedented joint response with allies if North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test, and urged China to help deter Pyongyang from further developing nuclear weapons and banned missiles.

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters on Monday, Yoon called on China, North Korea’s closest ally, to fulfill its responsibilities as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. He said failure to do so would lead to an influx of military assets into the region.

“What is certain is that China has the ability to influence North Korea, and China has a responsibility to participate in the process,” Yoon said in his office. It is up to Beijing to decide whether to exert that influence for peace and stability, he added.

North Korea’s actions were prompting increased defense spending in countries in the region, including Japan, and increased deployment of U.S. warplanes and ships, Yoon said.

It is in China’s interest to make its “best efforts” to induce North Korea to denuclearize, he said.

Asked what South Korea and its allies, the United States and Japan, would do if North Korea conducts a new nuclear test, Yoon said the answer “will be something that hasn’t been seen before,” but declined to detail what it would entail.

“It would be extremely unwise for North Korea to conduct a seventh nuclear test,” he told Reuters.

In a record year of missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said this week that his country aims to have the world’s most powerful nuclear force. South Korean and U.S. officials say Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 2017.

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North Korea’s tests overshadowed multiple meetings this month of international leaders, including the Group of 20 conference in Bali, where Yoon pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to make more efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Xi urged Seoul to improve relations with Pyongyang.

Ahead of the G20, U.S. President Joe Biden told Xi that Beijing had an obligation to try to deter North Korea from a nuclear test, though he said it was not clear China could do so. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said before the meeting that Biden would warn Xi that North Korea’s continued weapons development would lead to a greater U.S. military presence in the region, something Beijing does not want.

South Korea and the United States have agreed to deploy more U.S. “strategic assets,” such as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers, to the area, but Yoon said he expected no change to the 28,500 U.S. ground forces stationed in South Korea.

“We must respond coherently and in unison,” said Yoon, who blamed the failure of three decades of North Korea policy on a lack of coherence in the international response.

China fought alongside North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War and has since supported it economically and diplomatically, but analysts say Beijing may have limited power, and perhaps little desire, to rein in Pyongyang. China says it applies U.N. Security Council sanctions, which it voted for, but has since called for them to be eased and, along with Russia, blocked U.S. attempts to impose new sanctions.

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