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'Conflict could break out at any moment' over N Korea: China

BEIJING: A conflict over North Korea could break out “at any moment”, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said Friday (Apr 14), warning there would be “no winner” in any war as tensions soar with the US.

The sharp language came after President Donald Trump said the North Korea problem “will be taken care of”, as speculation mounts that the reclusive state could be preparing another nuclear or missile test.

“Lately, tensions have risen … and one has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment,” Wang said. “If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner.”

Whichever side provoked a conflict “must assume the historic responsibility and pay the corresponding price,” he said in a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Trump has sent a aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to press his point, one of a series of signals that indicate his willingness to shake up foreign policy strategy.

The US military on Thursday dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb it possesses on Afghanistan, targeting a complex used by the Islamic State group.

Trump also flexed his military muscle last week by ordering cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase the US believed was the origin of a chemical weapons attack on civilians in a northern Syria town.

The moves are seen as an implicit warning to North Korea that Washington is not afraid to use force.

Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

A White House foreign policy advisor said Friday that the US is assessing military options in response to the North’s weapons programs, saying another provocative test was a question of “when” rather than “if”.

There are reports of activity at a nuclear test site in North Korea ahead of Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung, which have fuelled speculation it could carry out a sixth test.

But Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against Pyongyang, fearing the regime’s collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

“Dialogue is the only possible solution,” Wang said.

Any US strike on North Korea could prompt retaliation against allies or US forces in South Korea or Japan. But there are few good diplomatic or economic options for the Trump administration.

The North is already under multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and appears to see these programs as insurance against regime change.

Rattled by Trump’s behaviour, Beijing – Pyongyang’s sole major ally and economic lifeline – has adopted a tougher line against its neighbour, including suspending coal imports from the country for the remainder of the year.

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Japan to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea

TOKYO: The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Friday.

Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest it has test-fired in recent months.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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South Korea ore carrier missing in South Atlantic, 22 crew unaccounted

SEOUL: A South Korean cargo vessel is missing after making its last contact in the South Atlantic about 2,500km from shore and 22 crew members are unaccounted for, South Korea’s foreign ministry and news reports said on Sunday.

Two Filipino crew members have been rescued floating in a life raft on Saturday, but other lifeboats and rafts found in the area were empty, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“A search operation is continuing for the 22 people,” a South Korean foreign ministry official in Seoul said by telephone, adding eight of the missing are South Korean nationals and 14 are Filipinos.

South Korea has requested Brazil and Uruguay to aid in the search and rescue, the official said asking not to be identified.

The very large ore carrier (VLOC) Stellar Daisy owned and operated by South Korea’s Polaris Shipping based in Busan was sailing from Brazil to China carrying iron ore when it sent a distress signal to the ship operator on Friday, Yonhap said.

A message last received on Friday by Polaris from a crew member said the ship was taking in water on the port side and was listing rapidly, Yonhap said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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In talks with US, China calls for diplomacy on North Korea

BEIJING: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said after talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday that there had to be a commitment to using diplomatic means to peacefully settle the North Korea issue.

Tillerson said Wang had agreed they would work together to try to get North Korea’s government to change its current course of pursuing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The two were speaking to reporters after meeting in Beijing.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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North Korea, China in focus as Tillerson starts Asia trip in Tokyo

TOKYO: Japan will be seeking clues to Washington’s policies on a volatile North Korea and a rising China while hoping to steer clear of trade rows when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets officials on Thursday at the start of his first Asia trip.

The former oil executive, who will also travel to South Korea and China, will seek to reassure Tokyo and Seoul about countering North Korea’s growing nuclear prowess, and press China to do more on one of the most serious security threats facing President Donald Trump.

Tillerson is expected to confirm the “unshakeable bond” of the U.S.-Japan alliance and underline cooperation on meeting the threat from Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes when he meets Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe is the only Asian leader to have met U.S. President Donald Trump since his inauguration, and Trump said the United States was “100 percent” behind Japan.

North Korea last week launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

Tillerson will have “substantive, hard” talks with U.S. partners in Asia on next steps in dealing with North Korea, but his visit is not likely to produce an immediate specific response, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Washington has previously said all options, including military, are on the table in its review of policies toward North Korea and Japanese officials are keen to know more details.

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim “Mattis correctly said all options are on the table … but as a practical matter, I don’t see the administration deciding to preemptively strike North Korea’s capabilities,” said Michael Green, a former U.S. official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Japan has a pacifist constitution but influential lawmakers have been pushing for the country to develop the ability to counter Pyongyang’s military advances.

Tokyo is also considering beefing up its ballistic missile defences with a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system or Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the missile defence system used at sea.

China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea, where it has a territorial row with Japan, and the South China Sea, where it has disputes with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asia nations, will also be on the agenda as will trade.

Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro cited Japan on Monday for non-tariff trade barriers and said Washington must use its leverage as the world’s largest market to boost U.S. exports.

Some Japanese officials, though, say trade will take a back seat to security. “We have more key issues of common concern, like North Korea,” one official said, declining to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to media.

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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China say North Korean issue fundamentally between US, North Korea

BEIJING: China on Friday dismissed renewed pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump over its role in North Korea, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea “very easily if they want to”, turning up pressure on Beijing to exert more influence to rein in Pyongyang’s increasingly bellicose actions.

China has made clear that it opposes North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and has repeatedly called for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.

It has also insisted it is dedicated to enforcing U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

“We have said many times already that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is the problem between the United States and North Korea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing, responding to Trump’s remarks.

“We hope the relevant parties can shoulder their responsibilities, play the role the should, and together with China play a constructive role for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and for its denuclearisation,” he added.

China announced on Saturday last week it was banning imports of coal from North Korea, after it tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

North Korean state media issued a rare reproach of China on Thursday saying its main diplomatic backer was “dancing to the tune” of the United States for halting its coal imports because of its nuclear and missile programmes.

The North’s state-run KCNA news agency did not refer directly to China by name but in an unmistakable censure it accused a “neighbouring country” of going along with North Korea’s enemies to “bring down its social system”.

Asked about the report, Geng said the U.N. sanctions were a clear signal of opposition from the international community about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and that China would enforce them.

However, he also described China and North Korea as being friendly neighbours.

“We are willing to work with North Korea to promote the stable and healthy development of relations,” Geng said, adding North Korea was well aware of China’s position on its nuclear programme.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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US, S Korea agree to explore all options on N.Korea – Blue House

SEOUL: South Korea and the United States agreed to explore all possible options to rein in North Korean provocations during a phone call between U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said.

Flynn had requested the call with Kim after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile early on Sunday, the Blue House said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe)

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South Korea prosecutor says Samsung's Lee paid bribes to Park's friend

SEOUL: South Korea’s special prosecutor’s office said on Monday that Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee had paid bribes totaling 43 billion won (US$ 36.42 million) to Choi Soon-sil, the friend of President Park Geun-hye at the centre of an escalating corruption scandal.

The prosecutor’s office said on Monday it will seek a warrant to arrest Lee on charges of bribery and embezzlement.

Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, told journalists that arrest warrants would not be sought for three other Samsung executives questioned during the investigation.

(US$ 1 = 1,180.5300 won)

(Reporting by Se Young Lee; Writing by Christine Kim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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UN imposes new sanctions on North Korea to slash cash from exports

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday aimed at cutting the Asian country’s annual export revenue by a quarter in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution to slash North Korea’s biggest export, coal, by about 60 percent with an annual sales cap of US$ 400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes, whichever is lower.

The U.S.-drafted resolution also bans copper, nickel, silver and zinc exports and the sale of statues by Pyongyang.

The United States was realistic about what the new sanctions on North Korea – also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – will achieve, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council after the vote.

“No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. But this resolution imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this Council’s demands,” she said.

“In total, this resolution will slash by at least US$ 800 million per year the hard currency that the DPRK has to fund its prohibited weapons programs, which constitutes a full 25 percent of the DPRK’s entire export revenues,” Power said.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It conducted its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9.

“Sanctions are only as effective as their implementation,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council. “It is incumbent on all member states of the United Nations to make every effort to ensure that these sanctions are fully implemented.”

China, believed to be the only country buying North Korean coal, would slash its imports by some US$ 700 million compared with 2015 sales under the new sanctions, diplomats said.

Over the first 10 months of 2016, China imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, up almost 13 percent from a year earlier. North Korean exports to the end of 2016 will now be capped at US$ 53.5 million, or 1 million metric tonnes.

While China said it was opposed to North Korea’s nuclear tests, U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi accused the United States and South Korea of intensifying confrontation with North Korea by scaling up military exercises and presence.

He described the planned U.S. deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea as “neither conducive to the realization of the goal of de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula nor helpful to the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula.”

The U.N. resolution blacklisted 11 more individuals, including former ambassadors to Egypt and Myanmar, and 10 entities, subjecting them to a global travel ban and asset freeze for ties to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

It calls on U.N. states to reduce the number of staff at North Korea’s foreign missions and requires countries to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission amid concerns that Pyongyang had used its diplomats and foreign missions to engage in illicit activities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

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North Korea diplomat in UK defects to South with family – South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea said North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London, Thae Yong Ho, had arrived with his family in South Korea, making him the highest-ranking diplomat ever to defect to the South

Thae defected to the South due to discontent with the regime and for the future of his child, Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman at the South’s Unification Ministry, told a news conference.

Jeong declined to give details on the timing of Thae’s arrival or his itinerary.

“They are currently under government protection and relevant institutions are going ahead with necessary procedures as usual,” Jeong said.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe)

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