U.S. seeks Chinese help over N. Korea

North Korean television anchor announces the news of the nuclear test in Pyongyang. U.S. agencies doubt Pyongyang’s claim that the device tested was a hydrogen bomb. —PHOTO: AFP  

he U.S. said it considered the latest nuclear explosion carried out by North Korea a matter of national security, and declared that it would stand steadfast in its alliance commitment to South Korea. North Korea has repeatedly threatened the U.S. and has described the latest nuclear test a response to “U.S. aggression.”

“We do have an alliance commitment with the Republic of Korea that we take very, very seriously. Obviously, nobody wants to see it come to that. But we have a robust military presence there on the peninsula that is, as they say, they’re ready tonight if they need to be,” State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, even as the U.S. reached out not only to its Asian partners, including Japan, but also to China, seeking to use its influence — waning as it might be — over the Communist North.

The White House said initial assessments by U.S. agencies doubted the North Korean claim that the device was a hydrogen bomb. Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary Antony J. Blinken will be heading to Asia next week.

Diminishing influence

Mr. Kim, unlike his late father, is not particularly sensitive to Chinese concerns. However, officials said though its influence over the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is diminishing, China remains a crucial player which can calm the situation, and that Secretary of State John Kerry would be talking to Chinese Foreign Minister soon.

Mr. Kirby said the U.S. was encouraged by the Chinese response that it “firmly opposed” the North’s move. “We would look to and hope for China’s leadership going forward with respect to holding the North accountable. ….we would look and hope for China’s continued influence in a positive way,” Mr. Kirby said.

The U.S. is also exploring new sanctions and considering strengthening the existing sanctions against.

The U.S. also said it was open to talking to North Korea in the Six Party format. The talks, started in 2003 but aborted in 2009, involved China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia, and the U.S. Washington wants the talks to restart but with a predetermined objective of dismantling the nuclear apparatus of North Korea and also hopes China will take the initiative. North Korea has been unwilling to accept that. U.S. officials ruled out any review of the U.S. position on this.

“If they want to return to the table through the Six-Party talks, the onus is on them to show that they’re willing to do that. And they have not shown a willingness to do that yet. But the international community is still willing to go down that road that obviously they aren’t,” Mr. Kirby said.

North Korea under Mr. Kim has made attempts to move away from a total dependence on China. It improved relations with Russia and even got India to receive its Foreign Minister in 2015 — the first time in 25 years. While the U.S. is seeking Chinese lead in disciplining North Korean adventurism, it also has to signal to its allies in Asia that it would stand up to Chinese manoeuvres in the South China Sea. Mr. Kerry spoke to his Vietnamese counterpart on Wednesday on China’s test flight landings of civilian aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. “They decided to explore how best to improve Vietnam’s maritime domain awareness and security capabilities,” Mr. Kirby said.