SEOUL/BEIJING – South Korea said on Friday it was on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in North Korea, with a large concentration of military hardware amassed on both sides of the border amid concerns about a new nuclear test by Pyongyang. Story continues below
North Korea said late on Friday the state of affairs on the Korean peninsula was “extremely perilous” because of “madcap American nuclear war manoeuvres aimed at trampling on our sovereignty and right to survival.”U.S. officials said there was a higher-than-usual level of activity by Chinese bombers, signalling a possible heightened state of readiness by reclusive North Korea’s sole major ally, although the officials played down concern and left open a range of possible reasons. Beijing denied its aircraft were on an increased level of alert.READ MORE: North Korea warns U.S. of ‘super-mighty pre-emptive strike’ as tensions mountIn Russia, the RIA news agency said a Kremlin spokesman declined to comment on media reports Russia was moving military hardware and troops towards the border with North Korea.U.S. and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test in violation of United Nations sanctions, something both the United States and China have warned against.WATCH: Trump confident, says China making ‘unusual’ moves regarding North Korea
North Korea marks the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday, an important anniversary that comes at the end of major winter military drills, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said.
A guard secures gates of a catfish farm visited by a group of foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea April 17, 2017.
Top envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan are due to meet on Tuesday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said, to “discuss plans to rein in North Korea’s additional high-strength provocations, to maximize pressure on the North, and to ensure China’s constructive role in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue”.South Korea and the United States have also been conducting annual joint military exercises, which the North routinely criticises as a prelude to invasion.“It is a situation where a lot of exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-U.S. military drills,” Lee told a briefing.READ MORE: U.S. strike force wasn’t actually headed to North Korea when Donald Trump said it was“We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guards down.”WATCH: North Korean releases video showing mock-destruction of the U.S. thanks to their nukes
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea”, after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike”.U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday North Korea’s rhetoric was provocative but he had learned not to trust it.“UNUSUAL MOVES”The North’s foreign ministry said in a statement that its military was ready to respond to American aggression.“Now that we possess mighty nuclear power to protect ourselves from U.S. nuclear threat, we will respond without the slightest hesitation to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike, and we will emerge victor in the final battle with the United States.”In a tweet, Trump said: “China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea so, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.
The president told a conference “some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours”, and that he was confident Chinese President Xi Jinping would “try very hard” to pressure North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.READ MORE: North Korean missile launch ‘fizzled out’ almost immediately, U.S. military saysTrump gave no indication of what the moves might be. None of the U.S. officials who told Reuters about the heightened level of activity by Chinese bombers suggested alarm or signalled that they knew the precise reason for such activity.WATCH: Rhetoric ramping up between US and North Korea, but critical details remain clouded
China’s Defence Ministry said its forces on the border with North Korea were maintaining a state of normal combat preparedness and training.Asked earlier about Trump’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Xi and Trump had had a full and deep discussion about North Korea when they met this month.“I can only say that via deep communications between China and the U.S. at various levels including at the highest levels, the U.S. now has an even fuller and more correct understanding of China’s policy and position and has a more rounded understanding of China’s efforts,” Lu said. “We feel very gratified about this.”An official Chinese paper said there was optimism about persuading the North to end its pursuit of a nuclear programme without the use of force, “now that even the once tough-talking Donald Trump is onboard for a peaceful solution”.
People practice for the expected parade on the main Kim Il-Sung Square in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017.
“Beijing has demonstrated due enthusiasm for Washington’s newfound interest in a diplomatic solution and willingness to work more closely with it,” the state-run China Daily said in an editorial.READ MORE: Donald Trump says Kim Jong Un’s desire for peace a deciding factorIn Russia’s Far East, some media have cited residents as saying they have seen military hardware being moved towards North Korea, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said deployment of Russian troops inside Russia was not a public matter.Tensions have risen sharply in recent months after North Korea conducted two nuclear weapons tests last year and carried out a steady stream of ballistic missile tests. Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile.“RED LINE”North Korea has said it will test missiles when it sees fit and a South Korean analyst said he believed the country would do so.“Without crossing the red line such as a nuclear test or a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, until the April 25 anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, North Korea is expected to continue to launch mid-range missiles,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at Sejong Institute outside Seoul.
A North Korean soldier salutes from atop an armoured vehicle during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017.
The joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are due to finish at the end of April.A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, is heading towards the Korean Peninsula, Trump’s administration has said.READ MORE: China defends trade practices with North Korea after Chinese-made vehicles seen towing ballistic missilesNorth Korea test-fired what the United States believed was a mid-range missile on Sunday. It blew up almost immediately.The failed launch came a day after the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.
In this March 15, 2017 file photo, U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson approaches to participate in the annual joint military exercise called Foal Eagle between South Korea and the United States, at Busan port in Busan, South Korea.
Jo Jung-ho/Yonhap via AP
There is concern the North will use the next big day on its calendar, April 25, to show off its strength.“Although North Korea attempted a missile launch but failed on April 16, considering the April 25 anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, there are concerns that it can make another provocation again at any time,” South Korea’s acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn told top officials on Thursday.He called on the military to maintain readiness.
© 2017 Thomson Reuters