Exclusive: South Korea’s Yoon warns of unprecedented response to North Korea nuclear test, calls on China to do more

SEOUL, Nov 29 (Reuters) – South Korean President Yun Suk-yeol warned of an unprecedented joint response with allies if North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test and called on China to help deter the North from continuing its banned nuclear weapons and missile development. .

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters on Monday, Yun urged China, North Korea’s closest ally, to live up to its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. He said failure to do so would result in an influx of military assets into the region.

“What is certain is that China has the ability to influence North Korea, and China has a responsibility to engage in the process,” Yun said in his office. It was up to Beijing to decide whether to exert that influence for peace and stability, he added.

North Korea’s activities have led to increased defense spending in countries in the region, including Japan, and more deployment of US warplanes and ships, Yoon noted.

It is in China’s interest to make its “best efforts” to encourage North Korea to denuclearize, he said.

Asked what South Korea and its allies, the United States and Japan, would do if North Korea carried out another nuclear test, Yun said the response “will be something that has never been seen before,” but declined to elaborate on what that would mean. .

“It would be extremely unwise for North Korea to conduct a seventh nuclear test,” he told Reuters.

Amid a record year of missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said this week that his country intends to have the world’s most powerful nuclear force. South Korean and US officials say Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear weapons tests for the first time since 2017.

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North Korea’s tests have overshadowed multiple gatherings this month of international leaders, including the Group of 20 conference in Bali, where Yun pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Xi urged Seoul to improve relations with Pyongyang.

Before the start of the G20, US President Joe Biden told Xi that Beijing had an obligation to try to deter North Korea from a nuclear test, although he said it was unclear whether China could do so. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said before the meeting that Biden would warn Xi that North Korea’s continued weapons development would lead to an increased US military presence in the region, something Beijing does not want to see.

South Korea and the United States have agreed to deploy more US “strategic assets” such as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers to the area, but Yun said he did not expect any changes to the 28,500 US ground forces stationed in South Korea.

“We must respond consistently and in step with each other,” Yun said, blaming a lack of consistency in the international response for the failure of North Korea’s three-decade policy.

China fought alongside the North in the 1950-53 Korean War and has supported it economically and diplomatically ever since, but analysts say Beijing may have limited power, and perhaps little desire, to rein in Pyongyang. China says it is enforcing UN Security Council sanctions it voted for, but has since called for them to be eased and, along with Russia, has blocked US-led attempts to impose new sanctions.

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I AM OPPOSED TO CHANGING THE “STATUS QUO” IN TAIWAN

Strengthening ties and coordination with Washington is at the core of Yun’s foreign policy, a focus highlighted by the top item on his desk: a sign reading “The Buck Stops Here,” a gift from Biden.

Like his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, Yun treaded cautiously amid the growing rivalry between the US and China. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner as well as North Korea’s close partner.

Regarding the rising tensions between China and Taiwan, Yun said that any conflict there should be resolved according to international norms and rules.

Democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, which has said it will never back down from using force against the island.

“I firmly oppose any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo,” Yun said.

When asked about the role in the conflict in Taiwan of South Korea or the US troops stationed there, Yun said that the country’s forces “will review the overall security situation” but that their most immediate concern will be North Korea’s military attempts to exploit the situation.

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“What is important is to respond to the immediate threat that surrounds us and to control the possible threat,” he said.

REGIONAL COOPERATION

Yun has also made increasing cooperation with Japan a primary goal, despite long-standing legal and political disputes dating back to Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

South Korea, Japan and the United States have agreed to share real-time information on tracking North Korean ballistic missiles.

As part of its biggest military expansion since World War II, Japan is expected to acquire new munitions, including longer-range missiles, spend on cyber defenses and create a combined air, sea and land command that will work more closely with U.S. forces in Japan.

Japan’s military ambitions have long been a sensitive issue in neighboring countries, many of which were attacked before or during World War II.

Yun’s predecessor suspended many of the trilateral exercises and nearly abandoned an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo as relations soured.

Japan now faces increasing threats from North Korea’s missile program, including tests that fly over the Japanese islands, Yun said.

“I believe the Japanese government cannot be asleep at the wheel with North Korean missile flights over their territory,” he said.

Reporting by Sojung Kim, Jack Kim and Josh Smith; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick McPhee and Gary Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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