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China and South Korea threaten tougher sanctions on North Korea

Tension is mounting as the US diverts one of its navy vessels towards the Korean peninsula.

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China and South Korea threaten tougher sanctions on North Korea

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China and South Korea have agreed to bring in tougher sanctions on North Korea if it carries out nuclear or long-range missile tests.

Is the North likely to do this?

Possibly, according to watchers.

Pyongyang marks several major anniversaries this month, occasions which are often marked with major tests of military hardware.

The dates in April could be an opportunity for Pyongyang to conduct nuclear or missile tests, according to South Korean defence ministry spokesperson, Moon Sang-kyun.

Pyongyang has invited a large number of foreign media representatives to Pyongyang this week to cover what is known as the “Day of the Sun” birth anniversary on April 15 of the state founder, Kim Il Sung.

A note of defiance against the US has been sounded. Pyongyang has described the strikes against Syria as “an unforgettable act of aggression” that showed the decision to develop nuclear weapons was “the right choice”.

Have there been tests recently?

Yes. Last Wednesday, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that flew a short distance before spinning out of control and crashing into the sea.

It is the latest in a number of missile tests in defiance of UN sanctions.

It is thought Pyongyang is ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time, with movements detected by satellites at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

What else has South Korea said?

The country’s chief nuclear envoy Kim Hong-kyun said there was no mention of any military option in his talks with China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, Wu Dawei.

He added they did not discuss any possible strike against the North by the Trump administration in the US.

“Both sides agreed that, despite the international community’s warnings, if North Korea makes strategic provocations such as a nuclear tests or an ICBM launch, there should be strong additional measures in accordance with UN security council regulations,” Kim told reporters.

The two sides have agreed “an even stronger UN resolution” will have to be adopted in the event of additional weapons tests by Pyongyang.

What did China say?

Wu did not speak to reporters.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was circumspect.

“We are playing close attention to the development of the situation on the peninsula. Under the current situation, we think all relevant sides should exercise restraint and avoid actions that could aggravate tension.”

China is North Korea’s main diplomatic and economic ally.

Wu’s trip was the first visit to South Korea by a senior Chinese official since the planned deployment of the US THAAD missile defence system led to a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Seoul.

China has said previously that the system would destabilise the regional security balance and its radar reach would intrude into Chinese territory.

What about the US?

The possibility of US military action against North Korea in response to previous tests has gained traction following last week’s strikes against Syria.

Washington has previously leaned towards sanctions and pressure to deter the North.

However, comments from US President Donald Trump’s top aides at the weekend suggest that position may be hardening.

Military manoeuvres

The US Navy strike group Carl Vinson cancelled a planned visit to Australia and is moving towards the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula.

US officials have described it as “a show of force”.

“We feel the increased presence is necessary,” one said.

“Syria was a warning” – Tillerson”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the US military strike against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons was a warning to other countries, including North Korea, that “a response is likely” if they pose a danger.

“(Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson told the media.

Trump and Xi held a summit meeting in Florida last week. The US president is thought to have pressed his Chinese counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme.