(CNSNews.com) – China responded testily to the unfolding deployment in South Korea of a U.S.-supplied missile defense system, but the Trump administration pushed back Tuesday, calling the shield a defensive measure against the North Korean threat and hinting that new options against the Stalinist regime may go beyond sanctions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo next week “to try to generate a new approach to North Korea,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing Tuesday, a day after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan.
Asked whether that new approach would go beyond sanctions, Toner said while enforcing sanctions was the focus right now, “we’re looking at other possibilities as well.”
“They’re increasingly becoming a pariah through this kind of behavior that violates the international norms and international law,” he said. “How we get that message across to them, remains to be seen. We’re pursuing tougher and tougher sanctions, but we’re also looking at other means to make that message clear to them.”
Toner would not comment, however, on reports suggesting that options under consideration include a military response or “regime change.”
After Monday’s missile launches, the U.S. and South Korea began moving ahead with deployment — agreed upon under the Obama administration last year — of the missile shield known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense).
In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing was “resolutely against the deployment of THAAD … and will take firm and necessary steps to safeguard our security interests.”
Stressing that the “consequences” would be borne by the U.S. and South Korea, Geng urged them “to stop the deployment process, instead of traveling further down the wrong path.”
He said Beijing has told the U.S. and South Korea its position “on multiple occasions through various channels. Both of them are very clear about where we stand.”
China and Russia oppose the deployment of THAAD in South Korea since its radar will cover some Chinese and Russian territory. The Pentagon insists that the system, like one being deployed in Europe, is designed to protect against missiles fired by rogue states – North Korea and Iran respectively – not against Russian or Chinese nuclear warheads.
“We’ve been very clear in our conversations with China that this is not meant to be a threat and is not a threat to them or any other power in the region,” Toner said.
“North Korea openly states that its ballistic missiles are intended to deliver nuclear weapons to strike cities in the United States, and the Republic of Korea, and Japan,” he said.
“We’ve been very clear [with China] that the decision to deploy THAAD is as a defense measure in order to protect not only South Korean, but also our military who are stationed in South Korea.”
In an op-ed Wednesday Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party organ, said Beijing will have to “make South Korea feel the pain” regarding the THAAD deployment, by imposing sanctions against the country.
Going beyond sanctions, it said China must also ensure that its “strategic weapons” include in their targeting the county in south-eastern South Korean where the THAAD battery will be located.
“The world has come to a crossroad where Washington is attempting to establish global military hegemony through its anti-missile system, while Beijing and Moscow are trying to smash that plan,” the party paper said. “This is the essence of the reality.”
China, North Korea’s strongest ally and trading partner, has long been the weak link in efforts by the international community to punish the Pyongyang regime for its nuclear, missile and other illicit activities, to the frustration of U.S., Japanese and South Korean administrations.
Earlier this year it did, however, temporarily freeze the import of coal from North Korea, removing a valuable source of foreign currency.
Notwithstanding its spotty record, Geng claimed that as “a responsible member of the international community, China has been working relentlessly for and making contributions to the settlement of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue as well as peace and stability of the peninsula.”
He called on “parties” to exercise restraint and to “join us in pushing for an early restart of negotiation.”
But Toner ruled out direct talks with the regime.
“Given North Korea’s recent behavior, we’re not at the point where we’re looking at direct engagement with them. We’re not rewarding that behavior in any way, shape, or form.”
From 2003 to 2008, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and North Korea held numerous rounds of so-called “six-party talks” in a bid to resolve a nuclear weapons standoff that dates back to the Clinton administration.
No further talks were held during the two Obama terms, during which the Kim regime conducted four out five nuclear tests it has carried out to date.
The nuclear tests and firing of missiles designed to carry conventional and unconventional warheads have all been in contravention of several U.N. Security Council resolutions, and despite an array of sanctions.
Underlining the ineffective international response to the violations, the Security Council on Tuesday issued a “press statement” condemning the latest missile launch.
A “press statement” is the weakest action that can be taken by the U.N.’s most important body. The U.N. describes it as “a declaration to the media made by the president of the Security Council on behalf of all 15 members, issued as a United Nations press release.”
Next comes a presidential statement (“a statement made by the president of the Security Council on behalf of the Council, adopted at a formal meeting of the Council and issued as an official document of the Council,” and finally, a resolution (“formal expressions of the opinion or will of United Nations organs.”)