SEOUL: China’s top nuclear envoy arrived in Seoul Monday for talks on the North Korean threat, as the US sent a naval strike group to the region and signalled it may act to shut down Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Speculation of an imminent nuclear test is brewing as the North marks major anniversaries including the 105th birthday of its founding leader on Saturday — sometimes celebrated with a demonstration of military might.
Wu Dawei, China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, will meet with his South Korean counterpart later Monday to discuss the nuclear issue.
The talks come shortly after Trump hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a summit at which he pressed Pyongyang’s key ally to do more to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions.
China, the US, South Korea and Japan all have dedicated envoys who meet at regular intervals to discuss the North Korean issue: a legacy of the long-stalled six-party process that also involved Pyongyang and Moscow. The North quit the negotiations in 2009.
The isolated North is barred under UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology, but repeated rounds of sanctions have failed to arrest its nuclear ambitions.
Trump has previously threatened unilateral action against the reclusive state, a threat that appeared more palpable after Thursday’s strike on a Syrian airfield following an apparent chemical attack.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said Monday the repercussions of a potential military response were worrying.
“Pre-emptive strikes may be aimed at resolving North Korea’s nuclear problems, but for us, it is also related to defending the safety of the public,” he told reporters.
While a US unilateral strike on North Korea from a shorter range might be more effective, it would likely endanger many civilians in the South and risk triggering a broader military conflict, experts warn.
“The US has always had all the options on the table from a preventive strike to preemptive strike to negotiations,” said James Kim, an analyst at Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“If it’s a preventive strike or precision strike, there’s danger that this could expand into a broader regional conflict involving China or Japan.
“The upside is that the United States may be able to denuclearize the North by force…. but it will come at a huge cost to the region and to the United States,” he said.