China Hoping To Ease Korean Peninsula Tensions

March 8, 2017 – China proposed today that South Korea and the United States discontinue their annual military exercises so that North Korea could suspend its nuclear and missile activities.

Calling the current situation around the Korean Peninsula is akin to “two accelerating trains, coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains.”

“To defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula, China proposes that, as a first step, North Korea may suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt of large-scale U.S.-South Korea military exercises,” Wang said during a two-hour press conference on the fringes of this year’s session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.

“This suspension-for-suspension can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table,” he said.

Wang’s remarks came after North Korea’s test-firing of ballistic missiles this week escalated regional tensions and put China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally, in a more challenging position.

On Monday, North Korea almost simultaneously fired four ballistic missiles that landed in waters as close as 300-350 kilometers off Japan’s northwest coast.

North Korea’s official media have reported that the “successful” launching of those missiles was conducted in a drill simulating a strike on U.S. military bases in Japan “in contingency.”

The drill is widely seen as North Korea’s first military counteraction to this year’s joint exercises by the South Korean and the U.S. armed forces, which began Wednesday.

Wang said China believes that the North Korean nuclear issue can only be solved by “addressing the parties’ concerns in a synchronized and reciprocal manner.”

For peace and stability on the peninsula, he also said, “We have to walk on both legs,” not just implementing U.N. sanctions on North Korea but also restarting talks.

Japan and the United States have called on China to play a bigger role in persuading North Korea to scale back its nuclear ambitions.

While pledging China’s commitment to denuclearizing the peninsula, Wang repeated its position that the nuclear issue boils down to relations between the United States and North Korea.

On China’s ties with the new U.S. administration, Wang said that they are developing in a “positive direction” since Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump conversed by phone about a month ago.

During that conversation, Trump reaffirmed Washington’s long-standing recognition that Taiwan is part of China.

However, to build a mutually beneficial relationship, Wang said a number of challenges remain, one of which is that both sides need to overcome a “zero-sum” mentality.

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