China warns US missile defense plan will antagonize North Korea

China criticizes US plans to bolster missile defenses in response to provocations by North Korea, saying they would only intensify antagonism.

KCNA via Korea News Service/AP
In this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed last week, a rocket launcher is fired during a live drill by the Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment and the Mu Islet Hero Defense Detachment deployed in the southwestern sector of North Korea. KCNA reported North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided the drill.

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China warned today that US plans to bolster its missile defense program in the Pacific following North Korea's recent nuclear threats will only antagonize Pyongyang, even as North Korea slammed Washington's "hostile policy" and refused to negotiate its nuclear capacity.

Reuters reports that the Chinese Foreign Ministry said today that the problem of North Korea's nuclear program would be best solved through diplomatic means, and that US missile defense plans did not help the situation.

"Actions such as strengthening anti-missile [defenses] will intensify antagonism and will not be beneficial to finding a solution for the problem," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. "China hopes the relevant country will proceed on the basis of peace and stability, adopt a responsible attitude and act prudently."

China's comments come in response to Friday's announcement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that the US plans to beef up its missile defense system in Alaska and California. Mr. Hagel specifically cited North Korea's third nuclear test and its "irresponsible and reckless provocations" of recent weeks as reason for the upgrade, which will include 14 new interceptors in Alaska and a new early-warning radar system in Japan.

But the announcement brought further fierce criticism from North Korea, which said on Saturday that the US had "compelled [North Korea] to have access to nukes" because it "escalated the situation of the Korean Peninsula to an extreme phase," reports CNN.

"[North Korea's] nuclear weapons serve as an all-powerful treasured sword for protecting the sovereignty and security of the country," a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to the state-run KCNA news agency. "Therefore, they cannot be disputed ... as long as the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy persist."

Pyongyang also denied that its nuclear program was a "bargaining chip" for negotiating economic concessions from the US, which has spearheaded a series of UN sanctions against the North.

North Korea then warned on Sunday that it would target Japan, as an ally of the US, in the event of a war on the Korean peninsula. Japan had recently called for "independent additional sanctions" against Pyongyang, Voice of America reports.

North Korea's nuclear threat was a major topic on Sunday's Washington news shows. Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan told CNN that the political situation in North Korea made for a potentially explosive mix. "You have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military is eager to have a saber rattling for their own self-interest, and the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly," he said.

He added that the North Koreans "certainly have a ballistic missile that can reach US shores," though Agence France-Presse notes that Mr. Rogers did not specify whether he was referring to Alaska and Hawaii or to the continental US. The Pentagon and most experts agree that the continental US is outside the range of North Korea's missiles.

The New York Times' David Sanger, appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, said the North's missile range is probably only half what they need to hit the lower 48 states, but the danger remains high.

"They've now conducted a third nuclear test, and by all the early indications, this time it really worked," Mr. Sanger said. "They have sent a missile as far as the Philippines. If you do the math on that, they're about halfway to being able to hit the Continental United States."

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, added on Face the Nation that "just because a missile can't reach the United States doesn't mean that it can't reach our allies in Asia who look to us for their security..."

At least one regional ally is backing the expanded US missile defense plan. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the Australian newspaper that he will endorse the plan when he meets with US officials during a 10-day visit to Washington that starts today. Mr. Carr called North Korea's threats "irresponsible and bellicose."

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