A Veiled Criticism of North Korea From Chinese Leader

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BOAO, China -- In an indirect but clear reference to the North Korean crisis, China's president, Xi Jinping, said Sunday that no country should be allowed to threaten world peace.

"No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain," said Mr. Xi in a speech at an annual regional business forum in Boao, China. Mr. Xi did not name any countries or disputes, but in separate remarks, China's Foreign Ministry on Sunday repeated its "grave concern" over the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

At the same time, South Korea's government warned that North Korea might carry out a provocation this week, possibly a missile test, as a way to extract concessions from Washington and Seoul.

As North Korea's major ally, China has been discomfited by the behavior of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, but it has refrained from making pronouncements that would signal what, if anything, it planned to do to try to curb Pyongyang.

The Obama administration, in response to North Korea's threats to fire missiles at the United States, has said that it will strengthen its missile defenses, and has sent jet fighters, bombers and warships to the area as a show of support for South Korea.

Mr. Xi did not mention the American actions in his speech at the Boao Forum, but China has grown increasingly concerned about efforts by the United States to reassert itself in Asia. He said Asia's stability faced new challenges as "hot spot issues keep emerging and both traditional and nontraditional security threats" surfaced. Obama administration officials say that Beijing faces a choice between reining in North Korea or facing a larger American military presence in East Asia.

But it is unclear how much China can moderate North Korea's behavior. The North ignored China's wishes when it carried out a nuclear test in February. That test led to more United Nations' economic sanctions -- which China agreed to despite reservations about their effectiveness -- and set the stage for the North's latest conflict with the United States and South Korea.

The South Korean government's latest warning came three days after its defense minister said that the North had moved a missile with a "considerable range" its east coast, although it is not capable of reaching the mainland United States.

Kim Jang-soo, director of national security for President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, said during a meeting of security-related officials on Sunday that the North "may launch a provocation, such as missile launch," around Wednesday. The missile that was moved is widely believed to be the Musudan, which the South Korean military and analysts say has the range to hit not only South Korea and Japan, but also American bases in Guam.

"North Korea has been engaged in a so-called headline strategy," Kim Jang-soo said, referring to an almost daily drumbeat of North Korean threats since early March and the news stories they have generated.

North Korea is raising tensions in an effort to frighten and force the United States and South Korea into negotiations and concessions, he said. The pressure was also aimed at China and Russia in an effort to push them to mediate on North Korea's behalf, he said.

"We see through their motive," he said. "Although North Korea shows no signs of attempting a full-scale war, it will suffer damage many times more than we do if it launches even a localized provocation."

South Korea "has no intention of attempting premature dialogue just because of a crisis," Mr. Kim said, urging the North to ease tensions so dialogue can start.

On Sunday, President Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, described North Korea's recent moves as "a concerning situation," but one that reflected "a pattern of behavior we've seen from the North Koreans many times." In an interview on the ABC News program "This Week," Mr. Pfeiffer said that North Korea needed to halt its "provocative actions" and "bellicose rhetoric."

He declined to discuss what the United States would do if North Korea tested another missile, but said that it would not be a surprise if it did. "We have taken the steps we need to be able to protect our allies, protect the homeland," he said. "The real focus and the onus is on North Korea to do the right thing."

Mr. Xi's remarks on Sunday, which were primarily focused on economic and social issues in Asia, did not mention any specific dispute, but he promised a constructive approach to regional tensions and "unremitting efforts to properly handle relevant issues through dialogue and negotiations."

Obama administration officials say that China's stance toward North Korea is "evolving." In the past week, China's Foreign Ministry has released several statements saying that it considers the North Korean situation to be of "grave concern." On Sunday, the ministry repeated the phrase, saying that China has requested that North Korea protect foreign diplomats living in Pyongyang, the North's capital. North Korean authorities had told foreign embassies to inform them by Wednesday whether they needed assistance in evacuating should they wish because of rising tensions on the peninsula.

"Currently, tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to escalate, and China expresses grave concern about this," according to the statement by the ministry spokesman, Hong Lei. "The Chinese government has already requested that North Korea abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and other international laws and practices, and thoroughly ensure the safety of Chinese Embassy and consular personnel resident in North Korea."

The Chinese Embassy and Consulates in North Korea were operating as usual, the statement said.

The North gave similar warnings to some of the 123 South Korean factories in the joint industry park in the North Korean city of Kaesong, said Mr. Kim, the South's national security director. For a fifth consecutive day, North Korea blocked South Korean workers and supplies from entering the factory park, forcing 13 plants to stop production as of Sunday.

The Kaesong complex is the last remaining major project of inter-Korean cooperation, and the blockade is a crucial test of whether North Korea is willing to sacrifice a lucrative source of hard currency to push its political and military priorities.

Jane Perlez reported from Boao, and Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul, South Korea. Christopher Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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