South Korean President Park Geun Hye has vowed to make all diplomatic efforts to see North Korea punished over its latest nuclear test, while hinting that Seoul may accept the deployment of an advanced US missile defence system that would be certain to pique Beijing.
Speaking in a televised national address yesterday, Ms Park also urged the international community, particularly the North's main ally China, to come up with tougher sanctions than those in the past.
Calling North Korea's fourth nuclear test last week a "serious threat" to South Korea and an unacceptable challenge to global peace and security, she said Seoul will continue to work with the United Nations Security Council, as well as its allies Washington and Tokyo, on counter-measures against Pyong- yang. The reclusive state is already facing UN sanctions for its previous nuclear tests since 2006.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, speaking at a ceremony honouring nuclear scientists yesterday, threatened a nuclear attack if the US and its allies were to "encroach upon our sovereignty and launch a menacing provocation", the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
The US flew a B-52 bomber over South Korea on Sunday in a show of force, and talks are under way for more American strategic assets to be sent to South Korea.
Yesterday, South Korean troops fired warning shots at a North Korean drone that crossed the border briefly before returning to its side.
In her address, Ms Park said she will review the issue of the US deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea. Her comments are seen as intended to prod China to rein in North Korea.
South Korea has so far resisted calls by the US to accept the THAAD deployment due to objections from China, which views the missile defence system as a security threat.
Ms Park also urged China to play a "necessary role" to restrain the recalcitrant North. Beijing denounced last week's test but stopped short of exerting additional pressure on Pyongyang, a move that has led to mounting criticism of Ms Park's China-first diplomacy.
Despite having met Chinese President Xi Jinping six times in the past three years to strengthen bilateral relations, Ms Park has been unable to get him on the phone since the nuclear test, local media reported.
China's response yesterday was again muted. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing will continue to work closely with Seoul to discuss ways to deal with Pyongyang.
Asked about Ms Park's comments on THAAD, Mr Hong said a third country's security interests should also be considered before a decision is made.
Meanwhile, the US stressed its firm commitment to security on the Korean peninsula during a phone call between US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and South Korea's Vice-Foreign Minister Lim Sung Nam yesterday. They will join their Japanese counterpart for talks in Tokyo on Saturday.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met a group of South Korean officials in Tokyo yesterday. He condemned Pyongyang's nuclear test and said that US-Korea-Japan co-operation has become more important given the current situation.
Speaking to journalists after her speech, Ms Park also defended the landmark settlement struck with Japan last month to end a dispute over wartime sex slaves. The deal, which includes an apology from Japan and 1 billion yen (S$12.1 million) in reparation, brought Seoul and Tokyo closer in the face of North Korea's nuclear threat.
This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
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