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NUKEWARS
That's what Xi said: S.Korea outrage over Trump's China comment
By Jung Ha-Won
Seoul (AFP) April 22, 2017


US envoy heads to Japan for North Korea crisis talks
Washington (AFP) April 21, 2017 - Washington's senior diplomat handling the nuclear stand-off with North Korea will head to Tokyo next week for talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

The US State Department said Friday that special representative Joseph Yun would meet senior diplomats Kenji Kanasugi of Japan and Kim Hong-kyun of South Korea on Tuesday.

"The three plan to discuss the evolving situation in North Korea as part of the three parties' regular consultations on North Korea to exchange views and coordinate actions," it said.

The allies are working together to respond to North Korea's latest missile tests and a possible sixth nuclear weapons test -- which Washington sees as a threat to global stability.

On Thursday, the UN security Council voted to condemn the North's latest test, part of an illegal effort to develop longer range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

US fighter pilot with Korea-bound carrier had to eject: navy
Washington (AFP) April 21, 2017 - A pilot preparing to land on the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, heading for waters off Korea, was forced to eject on his final approach, the Pentagon said Friday.

The unidentified pilot of the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet was picked up by helicopter from waters of the Celebes Sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a statement from the US Seventh Fleet. It said there were "no apparent injuries."

The supercarrier Vinson is the heart of a naval strike group that US officials said on April 8 was being sent toward Korea, amid soaring tensions there. The navy admitted Tuesday that the ships initially sailed in the opposite direction on an earlier mission before eventually turning north.

US supercarrier due in Sea of Japan 'in days': Pence
Seoul (AFP) April 22, 2017 - The US supercarrier Carl Vinson will arrive in the Sea of Japan in days, Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday, after days of mixed messages from Washington over the warship's whereabouts.

The strike group was supposedly steaming towards North Korea last week amid soaring tensions over the rogue state's apparent ramping up for a sixth nuclear test, with Pyongyang threatening to hit back at any provocation.

But the US Navy, which had earlier said the aircraft carrier would sail north from waters off Singapore as a "prudent measure" to deter the regime, admitted Tuesday the ships were in fact sent away from Singapore and towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy.

The aircraft carrier will arrive "in a matter of days", Pence, who is in Sydney, said, after the location of the naval strike group became contentious.

"We are sending an armada. Very powerful," Trump had tweeted, while Pentagon chief Jim Mattis had said the Vinson was "on her way up".

"The authorities of the Trump administration are spouting a load of rubbish," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement released early Saturday by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency.

America is "seeking to bring nuclear aircraft carrier strike groups one after another to the waters off the Korean Peninsula. Such intimidation and blackmail can never frighten the DPRK", he said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic Republic of Korea.

Pence also renewed US calls for Beijing to use its "unique" position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome," Pence said.

"We do believe China can do more."

Buffeted by the currents of diplomacy, South Korea is sometimes described as a "shrimp between two whales", and US president Donald Trump has touched nerves with remarks that the peninsula "used to be part of China".

The comments came after Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.

As the pair discussed ways to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions amid mounting tensions, Trump told the Wall Street Journal, Xi "went into the history of China and Korea.

"And you know, you're talking about thousands of years... and many wars. And Korea actually used to be a part of China," Trump went on.

Beijing is Pyongyang's sole major ally and Washington wants it to do more about the North's nuclear and missile programmes, while the US has a security alliance with Seoul and stations more than 28,000 troops in South to defend it.

The exact details of what Xi said and whether Trump accurately represented him are not known, but South Koreans are wary of Chinese expansionism, and politicians, historians and citizens have been outraged.

The Korean peninsula has been heavily influenced by China politically and culturally for centuries.

But while its ruling kingdoms sometimes paid tribute to their giant neighbour, South Korean historians stress they did not come under its territorial control, despite repeated invasions.

Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman countered: "The fact that Korea was not part of China for thousands of years... is a clear historical fact acknowledged by the international community."

- 'Dumbfounded' -

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang declined to confirm the details of Xi's wording, saying that: "The Korean people should not be worried about it."

But Seoul's major JoongAng Ilbo daily said South Koreans had been "dumbfounded" by the Chinese leader.

"If Trump really conveyed Xi's words correctly, it is nothing but a grave challenge to the identity of the Korean people," it said.

South Korean historians and activists rallied outside the Chinese embassy on Friday to protest against Xi's "absurd remarks", Yonhap news agency reported.

Seoul and Beijing are at loggerheads over the deployment of the US missile defence system THAAD to the South to guard against threats from the North, infuriating China, which sees it as weakening its own capabilities.

Beijing has imposed a series of moves including a ban on group tours to the South and suspensions of South Korean businesses in China, which are seen by Seoul as economic retaliation.

South Korea's top-selling Chosun newspaper turned on both leaders, castigating Xi for his "premodern expansionist view" and Trump for a lack of awareness of diplomatic sensitivities.

"The fact that Trump publicly disclosed such a remark (by Xi) demonstrates that he is completely ignorant about the history of the Korean peninsula," it said in an editorial Friday.

- Relations 'at their lowest' -

The row came after South Koreans were dismayed by the revelation that the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and a supporting battle group were still thousands of kilometres (miles) from the peninsula, despite the White House saying it was dispatching them to the area as tensions mounted with the North.

Trump had described the vessels as an "armada" and "very powerful" and the revelation drew jeers and disappointment.

"What Mr Trump said was very important for the national security of South Korea," conservative South Korean presidential candidate Hong Joon-Pyo told the Wall Street Journal.

"If that was a lie, then during Trump's term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says."

The series of missteps demonstrate lack of communications within Trump's nascent administration, said Bong Young-Shik, analyst at the Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies.

"Trump is an outsider inexperienced with how Washington works... and the coordination among his White House, the State Department and the Pentagon seems to be poor for now," he told AFP.

Relations between Seoul and Beijing are "at their lowest for years", said Bong, and Trump's description of Xi's remark was likely to worsen them further, "whether he intended to or not".

Fears of potential Korean conflict have mounted in recent weeks with Pyongyang showing no sign of any willingness to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes, and the US saying that military action was an "option on the table".

The North has vast amounts of artillery deployed within striking range of Seoul, putting the South Korean capital at risk of devastation in even a conventional conflict.

The carrier controversy illustrated Trump's "unpredictable behaviour" that could lead to "disastrous events", the Kyunghyang daily said.

"We are worried whether the Trump administration... can properly handle a crisis on the Korean peninsula," it added. "The South Korean government should brace itself against the 'Trump Risk'."

NUKEWARS
New actor Trump heightens N. Korea drama: analysts
Seoul (AFP) April 21, 2017
Geopolitical tensions flare every spring on the Korean peninsula, but analysts say the anxiety of recent weeks has been magnified by the unpredictable new player in the annual drama: Donald Trump. North Korea always intensifies its rhetoric when Seoul and Washington stage annual large-scale joint military drills that it condemns as rehearsals for a potential invasion. But this time threa ... read more

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