Chinese bombers on high alert over North Korean situation

US defence official tells CNN aircraft being brought full readiness

North Korean soldiers wave from the back of a truck at oncoming traffic on Thursday. Photograph: AP

North Korean soldiers wave from the back of a truck at oncoming traffic on Thursday. Photograph: AP


China’s air force has put its land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers “on high alert” in response to a potential situation in North Korea, a US defence official has been quoted as saying.

The moves to bring an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft to full readiness were part of an effort to “reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency,” the defence official told CNN.

The remarks come amid ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula. President Donald Trump has praised China’s stepped-up efforts to combat the North Korean “menace”, telling a news conference “some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours”. He said he was confident Chinese president Xi Jinping would “try very hard” to pressure Beijing’s ally and neighbour North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.

There were no reports in Chinese media about a more intensive military reaction. China has stuck to its line that dialogue and consultation were the only ways to solving the nuclear issues and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

“We hope all the related parties can reach a consensus and make practical efforts,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

Belligerent rhetoric

The rhetoric from both the US and the North Korean side has been more belligerent of late. US officials have said that all options are on the table in an apparent reference to military strikes, while North Korean officials have also rattled their sabres and warned the United States of a devastating first strike.”

“In the case of our super-mighty pre-emptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only US imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the US mainland and reduce them to ashes,” the Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in an editorial.

Beijing has no desire for the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to collapse as it could lead to a reunification that would place American soldiers on China’s borders through Washington’s close links to Seoul. There is also the potential economic disaster the collapse of the North Korean economy would precipitate, bringing waves of refugees into China.

Nuclear sniffer

The South Korean news agency Yonhap has reported that the US Air Force has dispatched a nuclear sniffer aircraft to the east of the Korean Peninsula to detect and identify another nuclear test by North Korea, its sixth.

There has been speculation that North Korea has notified China of its plans to test another nuclear device.

“The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, a special-purpose US plane, made an emergency sortie today over the East Sea,” a source told Yonhap.

Chinese media has also been focusing on the controversy over a remark by Mr Trump saying that Korea was “part of China.” Relations between China and South Korea are tense right now because Seoul is deploying the THAAD anti-missile system, a move that China sees as a strategic threat.

Mr Trump said he had been told by Mr Xi that Korea had been part of China historically, which has angered the Koreans. While parts of Korea did historically pay tribute to Chinese imperial rulers, Korea has always been a separate entity.