President Yoon Suk-yeol said it would be extremely unwise for North Korea to conduct a seventh nuclear test.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, along with his daughter, watches the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, along with his daughter, watches the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). (Reuters)

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol warned of an unprecedented joint response with allies if North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test, and urged China to help dissuade the North from pursuing banned development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters on Monday, Yoon called on China, North Korea’s closest ally, to fulfil its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. He said not doing so would lead to an influx of military assets to the region.

"What is sure is that China has the capability to influence North Korea, and China has the responsibility to engage in the process," Yoon said in his office. It was up to Beijing to decide whether it would exert that influence for peace and stability, he added.

North Korea's actions were leading to increased defence spending in countries around the region, including Japan, and more deployment of US warplanes and ships, Yoon noted.

It is in China's interest to make its "best efforts" to induce North Korea to denuclearise, he said.

When asked what South Korea and its allies, the United States and Japan, would do if North Korea conducts a new nuclear test, Yoon said the response "will be something that has not been seen before", but declined to elaborate what that would entail.

"It would be extremely unwise for North Korea to conduct a seventh nuclear test," he said.

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Pyongyang's nuclear tests

Amid a record year for missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said this week his country intends to have the world's most powerful nuclear force. South Korean and US officials say Pyongyang may be preparing to resume testing nuclear weapons for the first time since 2017.

North Korea's tests overshadowed multiple gatherings this month of international leaders, including the Group of 20 conference in Bali, where Yoon pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations. Xi urged Seoul to improve relations with Pyongyang.

Ahead of the G20, US President Joe Biden told Xi that Beijing had an obligation to attempt to talk North Korea out of a nuclear test, although he said it was unclear whether China could do so. Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said before the meeting that Biden would warn Xi that North Korea's continued weapons development would lead to an enhanced US military presence in the region, something Beijing is not eager to see.

South Korea and the United States have agreed to deploy more US "strategic assets" such as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers to the area, but Yoon said he did not expect changes to the 28,500 American ground forces stationed in South Korea.

"We must respond consistently, and in lockstep with each other," Yoon said, blaming a lack of consistency in the international response for the failure of three decades of North Korea policy.

China fought beside the North in the 1950-53 Korean War and has backed it economically and diplomatically since, but analysts say Beijing may have limited power, and perhaps little desire, to curb Pyongyang. 

China says it enforces the UNSC sanctions, which it voted for, but has since called for them to be eased and, along with Russia, blocked US-led attempts to impose new sanctions.

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Source: Reuters