Exclusive: South Korea’s Yoon warns of unprecedented response to North Korea nuclear test, calls on China to do more

SEOUL, Nov 29 (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul warned of an unusual joint response with allies if North Korea conducted a nuclear test, and urged China to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. and help prevent prohibited missile development. .

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters on Monday, Yun called on China, North Korea’s closest ally, to fulfill its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. He said that not doing so would lead to the 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 engage in that process,” Yun said in his office. He added that it was up to Beijing to decide whether it would use that influence for peace and stability.

Yoon noted that North Korea’s actions are leading to increased defense spending in countries around the region, including Japan, and further deployment of US warplanes and ships.

He said it was in China’s interest to do its “best efforts” to persuade North Korea to denuclearize.

Asked what South Korea and its allies, the United States and Japan, would do if North Korea conducted a new nuclear test, Yun said the response would be “something that has never been seen before,” but he declined to comment. declined to say what that would entail. .

He told Reuters that it would be extremely unwise for North Korea to conduct a seventh nuclear test.

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

North Korea’s tests overshadowed several gatherings of international leaders this month, including the Group of 20 conference in Bali, where Yun urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Pressured to take further steps. Xi urged Seoul to improve relations with Pyongyang.

Ahead of the G20, US President Joe Biden told Xi that Beijing had a responsibility to try to dissuade North Korea from a nuclear test, although he said it was unclear whether China could do so. . Biden’s national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, said before the meeting that Biden would warn Xi Jinping that North Korea’s continued weapons development would lead to an increased US military presence in the region, which Beijing is eager to see. do not have.

South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to deploy more U.S. “strategic assets” in the region, such as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers, but Yoon said he wants the 28,500 U.S. ground forces stationed in South Korea. I do not expect to change.

“We must respond consistently and together,” Yun said, blaming a lack of consistency in the international response for the failure of three decades of North Korea policy.

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China fought alongside the North in the 1950-53 Korean War and has supported it economically and diplomatically ever since, but analysts say Beijing has limited power to deter Pyongyang. There is power and perhaps very little desire. China says it enforces UN Security Council sanctions, which it voted for, but has since called for easing them and a new US-led coalition with Russia. Attempts to impose sanctions have been halted.

Opposition to Taiwan’s ‘Status Quo’ Change

Fostering relations and coordination with Washington is the main focus of Yun’s foreign policy, highlighted by the main item on his desk: a gift from Biden, a sign of “The Book Stops Here.”

Like his predecessor Moon Jae-in, Yun has tread carefully amid the growing rivalry between the US and China. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner as well as North Korea’s closest ally.

On the rising tension between China and Taiwan, Yun said that any dispute there should be resolved according to international norms and rules.

Democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, which has said it will never back down from using force against the island.

“I am strongly opposed to any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo,” Yun said.

When asked about the role of South Korea or U.S. troops stationed there in the Taiwan conflict, Yun said the country’s forces would “consider the overall security situation” but that his immediate concern was North Korea’s military efforts. It will be taken advantage of. Situation

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“The important thing is to respond to the threat around us and control the potential threat,” he said.

Regional cooperation

Yoon has also made increased cooperation with Japan a primary goal, despite the long legal and political disputes over Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea, Japan and the US have agreed to share real-time information to track North Korea’s ballistic missile tests.

As part of its biggest military expansion since World War II, Japan is expected to buy fresh war equipment, including long-range missiles, spend on cyber defense and a joint air force. , will create a sea and land command headquarters that will work closely with US forces. Japan.

Japan’s military ambitions have long been a sensitive issue in neighboring countries, many of which were invaded before or during World War II.

Yun’s predecessor halted many trilateral exercises and nearly abandoned an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo when relations soured.

Yoon said Japan now faces increasing threats from North Korea’s missile program, including tests that cross the Japanese islands.

“I believe the Japanese government cannot sleep on its wheels with North Korean missile flights over its territory,” he said.

Reporting by Suyoung Kim, Jack Kim, and Josh Smith; Written by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick McPhee and Jerry Doyle

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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