UN head warns against sleepwalking into war on Korean peninsula

Chinese President Xi Jinping

War must not be allowed to break out on the Korean peninsula and the issue must be resolved through talks, Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday, while UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned of the danger of sleepwalking into conflict.

Xi made his comments to visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in just days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without preconditions.

But the White House said on Wednesday that no negotiations could be held with North Korea until it improved its behaviour.

The White House has declined to say whether President Donald Trump, who has taken a tougher rhetorical line toward North Korea, approved Tillerson’s overture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tillerson’s offer of direct contacts with North Korea was a very good signal, while warning that a US strike on the North would have catastrophic consequences.

North Korea tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29, which it said could put all of the United States within range, in defiance of international pressure and UN sanctions.

While South Korea and China share the goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and stop testing increasingly sophisticated longrange missiles, the two have not seen eye to eye on how to achieve this.

Meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi told Moon that the goal of denuclearising the Korean peninsula must be stuck to, and that war and chaos could not be allowed to happen, state media said.

“The peninsula issue must in the end be resolved via dialogue and consultation,” Xi was quoted as saying.

China and South Korea had an important shared interest in maintaining peace and stability, and China was willing to work with South Korea to prevent war and promote talks, Xi said.

China would support both North and South Korea to improve relations as this was good for easing tensions, he said after nearly a year of tense relations between the two countries.

China has been furious about the deployment of the US-made terminal high altitude area defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, saying its powerful radar could see far into China and would do nothing to ease tensions with North Korea.

China and South Korea agreed in late October that they would normalise exchanges and move past the dispute over THAAD, which froze trade and business exchanges, and Moon has been keen to put the dispute behind them.

Guterres, speaking in Tokyo after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said Security Council resolutions on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes must be fully implemented by Pyongyang and other countries.

“It is very clear that the Security Council resolutions must be fully implemented, first of all by North Korea, but by all other countries whose role is crucial to achieve the result we all aim at, which is the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” he said.

He said Security Council unity was also vital to allow for the possibility of diplomatic engagement.

“The worst thing that could happen is for us all to sleepwalk into a war that might have very dramatic circumstances,” he said.

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