China welcomes US’s softer tone on North Korea

Beijing remains opposed to new Thaad anti-missile system in South Korea

China has welcomed Washington's less bellicose tone on North Korea, but reiterated its opposition to the US anti-missile system currently being installed in South Korea.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration issued a notably softer statement on North Korea, after weeks of mounting tensions between the two over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and ballistic missile tests.

In a sustained bout of sabre-rattling that caused jitters throughout Asia, the US dispatched a nuclear strike force to Korean waters, while North Korea threatened repeatedly to crush the US with its nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang’s latest threat was delivered on Thursday through its propaganda website Meari.


The website depicted simulated missile attacks on the White House and US aircraft carriers, along with a message that any aggression against North Korea would mean a miserable end for the Americans.

A joint statement by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, secretary of defence James Mattis and director of national intelligence Dan Coats on Wednesday said US president Donald Trump aimed to use tougher sanctions and diplomacy to resolve the issue.

“The US seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” the statement ran.

Asked at a regular news briefing in Beijing about the US statement, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Chinese government had noticed that several US officials had made similar remarks recently.

“We have noted these expressions, and have noted the message conveyed in these expressions hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation,” he said.

“We believe this message is positive and should be affirmed.”


South Korea has also indicated that it would be open to dialogue with North Korea if the North was prepared to take a sincere approach to denuclearisation.

“The stance of South Korea and the US toward dialogue is consistent. That is, the door for dialogue is open if the North comes to take the path toward denuclearisation with sincerity,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-jyuk said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“Therefore, we urge the North to learn quickly that the only choice it has is to denuclearise and come to the path of genuine transformation.”

While Beijing registered its approval of Washington's latest message, it remains angry over the deployment of the US's Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system on a golf course in Seongju, 300km southeast of Seoul.

Beijing sees Thaad as also being aimed at its own missiles and says the system’s radar can penetrate deep into Chinese territory.

The Chinese government has organised a boycott of many South Korean companies operating in China in response to the installation.

"The deployment of the Thaad anti-missile system in South Korea damages the regional strategic balance and stability. The Chinese side is resolutely opposed to this," Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

“China’s military will continue to carry out live-fire military exercises and test new military equipment in order to firmly safeguard national security and regional peace and stability.”

The frontrunner in South Korea’s May 9th presidential elections, Moon Jae-in, has called for a delay in the deployment of Thaad, saying a decision on the system should be made after gathering public opinion and further talks with Washington.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing