Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before their meeting at at the Great Hall of the People on March 19, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool
With warm words from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ended his first trip to Asia since taking office with an agreement to work together with China on North Korea and putting aside trickier issues.
China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and the U.S. decision to base an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.
Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, with the Trump administration crafting a big new arms package for the island that is bound to anger China.
But meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, those issues were brushed aside by Xi and Tillerson, at least in front of reporters, with Xi saying Tillerson had made a lot of efforts to achieve a smooth transition in a new era of relations.
“You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this,” Xi said.
Xi said he had communicated with President Donald Trump several times through telephone conversations and messages.
“We both believe that China-U.S. cooperation henceforth is the direction we are both striving for. We are both expecting a new era for constructive development,” Xi said.
“The joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both,” Xi added, in comments carried by China’s Foreign Ministry.
China and the United States must strengthen coordination of hot regional issues, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and protect the broad stability of ties, Xi said.
Tillerson replied that Trump looks forward to enhancing understanding with China and the opportunity for a visit in the future.
Tillerson said Trump places a “very high value on the communications that have already occurred” between Xi and Trump.
“And he looks forward to enhancing that understanding in the opportunity for a visit in the future,” Tillerson said.
“We know that through further dialogue we will achieve a greater understanding that will lead to a strengthened — strengthening of the ties between China and the United States and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation.”
Trump has so far been an unpredictable partner for China, attacking Beijing on issues ranging from trade to the South China Sea and in December by talking to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
Two days after accusing China of doing too little to help curb Pyongyang’s weapons drive, Trump told reporters he held meetings on North Korea over the weekend at his Florida resort and said the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was “acting very, very badly.”
Underscoring the tensions, North Korea conducted a test of a new high-thrust engine at its Tongchang-ri rocket launch station, and Kim said the successful test was “a new birth” of its rocket industry, Pyongyang’s official media said on Sunday.
Speaking in Seoul on Friday, Tillerson issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying in Seoul that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten South Korean and U.S. forces.
Still, China and the United States appeared to have made some progress or put aside differences on difficult issues, at least in advance of a planned summit between Xi and Trump.
Both Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi struck a more conciliatory tone in their meeting, with Tillerson saying the United States and China would work together to get nuclear-armed North Korea to take “a different course”.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches, in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and is believed by experts and government officials to be working to develop nuclear-warhead missiles that could reach the United States.
Washington wants China, the North’s neighbor and main trading partner, to use its influence to rein in the weapons programs.
China says it is committed to enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea, but all sides have a responsibility to lessen tensions and get back to the negotiating table.
Chinese official also repeatedly say they do not have the influence over North Korea that Washington and others believe, and express fears poverty-struck North Korea could collapse if it were cut off completely, pushing destabilizing waves of refugees into northeastern China. — By Yeganeh Torbati and Michael Martina | BEIJING
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Florida; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Sandra Maler)
Japan wants missiles with enough range to strike North Korea: sources
FILE PHOTO – Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera attends a news conference at Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is preparing to acquire precision air-launched missiles that for the first time would give it the capability to strike North Korean missile sites, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Japan plans to put money aside in its next defense budget starting April to study whether its F-15 fighters could launch longer-range missiles including Lockheed Martin Corp’s extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER), which can hit targets 1,000 km (620 miles) away, said one the sources with knowledge of the plan.
“There is a global trend for using longer range missiles and it is only natural that Japan would want to consider them,” he said. The sources asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to talk to media.
Japan is also interested in buying the 500 km-range Joint Strike Missile designed by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace to be carried by the F-35 stealth fighter, Fuji Television reported earlier.
Neither of those two items are included in a 5.26 trillion yen ($46.76 billion) budget request already submitted by Japan’s Ministry of Defence, however additional funds would be made available to evaluate the purchase of these missiles, the sources said.
The change suggests that the growing threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles has given proponents of a strike capability the upper hand in military planning.
Restrictions on strike weapons imposed by its war-renouncing constitution means Japan’s missile force is composed of anti-aircraft and anti-ship munitions with ranges of less than 300 kms (186 miles).
Any decision to buy longer range weapons capable of striking North Korea or even the Chinese mainland would therefore be controversial, but proponents argue that the strike weapons can play a defensive role.
“We are not currently looking at funding for this,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Tuesday at a regular press briefing.
“We rely on the United States to strike enemy bases and are not looking at making any changes to how we share our roles,” he added.
Before he took up his post in August, Onodera led a group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers that recommended Japan acquire strike weapons to deter Pyongyang from launching any attack on Japan.
North Korea has since fired ballistic missiles over Japan and last week tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that climbed to an altitude of more than 4,000 km before splashing into the Sea of Japan within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; writing by Tim Kelly; editing by Richard Pullin
South Korea, U.S. kick off large-scale air exercise amid North Korean warnings
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft, assigned to the 36th Fighter Squadron, deploy during Exercise Vigilant Ace 18 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, December 3, 2017. U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Franklin R. Ramos/Handout via REUTERS
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States launched large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, officials said, a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced missile as part of a weapons programme that has raised global tensions.
The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part. The exercises have been condemned as a provocation by the isolated North.
F-35 fighters will also join the drill, which will also include the largest number of 5th generation fighters to take part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.
Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.
South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The U.S. Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.
The joint exercise is designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.
The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.
Pyongyang blamed U.S. President Donald Trump for raising tensions and warned at the weekend the Vigilant Ace exercise was pushing tensions on the Korean peninsula towards “a flare-up”, according to North Korean state media.
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drill would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.
The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a foreign ministry spokesman, also said on Saturday the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula”.
North Korea regularly uses its state media to threaten the United States and its allies.
Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait
Exclusive: Pentagon evaluating U.S. West Coast missile defense sites – officials
FILE PHOTO: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout
SIMI VALLEY, Calif (Reuters) – The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.
West Coast defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.
The accelerated pace of North Korea’s ballistic missile testing program in 2017 and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised the pressure on the United States government to build-up missile defenses.
On Wednesday, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles), placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.
Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee which oversees missile defense, said the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defenses at West Coast sites. The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defense budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.
“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Alabama Congressman and Republican told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California.
When asked about the plan, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Hill said in a statement: “The Missile Defense Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System on the West Coast.”
The MDA is a unit of the U.S. Defense Department.
Congressman Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defense installations.
Rogers and Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat representing the 9th District of Washington, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp, at west coast sites.
The Congressmen said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.
THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install.
In addition to the two THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and Guam in the Pacific, the U.S. has seven other THAAD systems. While some of the existing missiles are based in Fort Bliss, Texas, the system is highly mobile and current locations are not disclosed.
A Lockheed Martin representative declined to comment on specific THAAD deployments, but added that the company “is ready to support the Missile Defense Agency and the United States government in their ballistic missile defense efforts.” He added that testing and deployment of assets is a government decision.
In July, the United States tested THAAD missile defenses and shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The successful test adds to the credibility of the U.S. military’s missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years due in part to test delays and failures.
Currently, the continental United States is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships. The THAAD system has a far higher testing success rate than the GMD.
The MDA told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the U.S. Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.
North Korea’s latest missile test puts the U.S. capital within range, but Pyongyang still needs to prove it has mastered critical missile technology, such as re-entry, terminal stage guidance and warhead activation, South Korea said on Friday.
Reporting by Mike Stone in Simi Valley, Calif.; Editing by Chris Sanders, Michelle Price and Michael Perry