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Saturday , August 8 2020

‘High chance of clashes with North’

N. Korea poses threat to China, Russia: US admiral

This picture shows the No. 4 reactor (right), of the Kansai Electric Power Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture on May 17. A Japanese utility on May 17 switched on a nuclear reactor, the latest to come back in service despite deep public opposition in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis. (AFP)

SEOUL, May 17, (Agencies): South Korean President Moon Jae-In warned Wednesday there was a “high possibility” of military clashes along the border with North Korea as tensions mount over Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions. Moon, who was sworn in last week, warned that the North’s nuclear and rocket programmes were “advancing rapidly”, days after Pyongyang launched what appeared to be its longest- range missile yet.

“I will never tolerate the North’s provocations and nuclear threats,” he said on a visit to the defence ministry, urging the South’s military to adopt a “watertight defence posture”. “We are living in the reality where there is a high possibility of military clashes” along the disputed sea border off the Koreas’ west coast or along the heavily-fortified land frontier that divides them, he said.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have ramped up in recent weeks with the Trump administration saying military action was an option under consideration and the North threatening massive retaliation. Left-leaning Moon favours engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, but after Sunday’s missile launch said dialogue would be possible “only if Pyongyang changes its behaviour”.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss tightening sanctions on North Korea after it fired its latest ballistic missile. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States was working with China, Pyongyang’s main ally, on a new sanctions resolution and warned that all countries must step up action against North Korea or face measures themselves. “We all have to send a sign to North Korea, and that is ‘No more. This is not play time. This is serious. These threats are not welcome’,” Haley told reporters ahead of the meeting. “If you are a country that is supplying or supporting North Korea, we will call you out on it,” Haley said. “We will make sure that everyone knows who you are and we will target those sanctions towards you as well.” Despite the push for a tougher stance, Haley held out the prospect of direct talks with North Korea, saying “we are willing to talk but not until we see a total stop of the nuclear process and of any test there”.

North Korea launched Sunday what appeared to be its longest-range ballistic missile yet, saying it was capable of carrying a “heavy nuclear warhead” in a test aimed at bringing the US mainland within reach. A top US Navy commander on Wednesday pushed for a “sense of urgency” over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, stressing it even threatens Pyongyang’s allies China and Russia. Admiral Harry Harris, who heads the Pacific Command, spoke during a visit to Japan after North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test raised further alarm over the pace of its weapons development.

North Korea on Sunday launched what appeared to be its longest-range ballistic missile yet, claiming it was capable of carrying a “heavy nuclear warhead” in a test aimed at bringing the US mainland within reach. “In every test he (Kim) makes, it’s a success because it takes North Korea one step closer to be able to deliver a nuclear-tipped missile anywhere in the world,” Harris said. “I must assume Kim Jong-Un’s claims are the truth, because I know his aspirations certainly are… That should provide all of us with a sense of urgency to address this problem now,” he added.

The United States said the missile landed close to Russian territory, but Moscow later said it fell in the ocean about 500 kms (310 miles) away and posed no threat. Meanwhile, while most of the United States is still out of reach of a missile launched by North Korea, the US territory of Guam, a key military hub in the Pacific, could be within range.

That realization, coming after a missile launch over the weekend, had residents of the island casting a wary eye amid rising nuclear tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. Some worried they might find war at their doorstep, while others say they are more concerned about the potential loss of vital tourism dollars than they are a nuclear attack.

“I think it is scary since North Korea is just insane, to echo the general consensus about North Korea,” said Farron Taijeron, a 29-year-old scuba instructor in Guam. Patricia Anna Cruz, a 62-year-old substitute teacher, noted that even if you don’t go to war, “war may be right next to you.” US experts said the missile launched over the weekend could have a range of 4,500 kms (about 2,800 miles), putting Guam easily within range. Guam is armed with the US Army’s missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, the same system recently installed in South Korea. “Whether or not they truly have that capability (of reaching Guam), I’ll leave that up to our DoD partners to worry about that threat,” said Charles Esteves, Guam’s Office of Civil Defense administrator.

“But with all the layers of defense … basically we provide that sense of assurance to the public.” Some locals are more concerned about the perception of tourists than any actual threat. “Guam’s primary industries are tourism and of course the military,” Esteves said. “So if we start seeing a significant change in our tourist numbers then maybe there’s a need for concern.” Gelica Sablan, a 25-year-old Guam resident and college student, echoed those concerns: “Other people from neighboring Asian counties or any country in general might not want to come here because they might think it’s a threat that their safety might be compromised.”

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