Bombers in the South China Sea: Beijing Grows its Military Presence on Disputed Islands

China landed a heavy bomber in the Paracels, its latest military buildup as the world focuses on North Korea

A Chinese H-6K, like the one that landed on Woody Island last week.
A Chinese H-6K, like the one that landed on Woody Island last week. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

China’s first-ever landing of a heavy bomber on a disputed island in the South China Sea punctuates a steady buildup of military assets that has solidified Beijing’s claims to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

On Friday, China’s air force disclosed it had landed an H-6K bomber on an island in the area, which would “help improve actual combat capabilities in responding to various security threats at sea.”

Experts who track China’s military moves said the landing was on Woody Island in the Paracels, an island chain where claims by Vietnam, China and Taiwan intersect.

The landing was the latest in a series of military moves that China has carried out while global attention has been focused on the standoff with North Korea. Earlier this month, China deployed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands off the coast of the Philippines for the first time.

Satellite imagery also shows Beijing has installed radars and communication-jamming equipment on the Paracels and Spratlys in recent months, and that Chinese navy ships and military aircraft have made frequent visits.

Together, the deployments give China an interconnected array of radar, missile batteries and airfields that will allow it to project power over hundreds of miles of ocean where the U.S. Navy’s dominance previously faced few serious challenges. “They crossed a big threshold,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute.

The militarization of the South China Sea is part of a broader push by President Xi Jinping to assert control over long-claimed territory and extend China’s defensive perimeter further into the Pacific, moves that are popular at home. As much as a third of global trade passes annually through the 1.35 million square miles of ocean, which is also thought to be rich in natural resources including oil and natural gas. China says it has historical claims to almost the entire area and that it has the right to defend those claims.

China staged its biggest military show of force in the South China Sea last month when it deployed dozens of navy vessels, including an aircraft carrier and nuclear-missile submarines, off its southern Hainan island.

The White House said this month that it has raised concerns with Beijing about the militarization of the South China Sea and warned there would be consequences. The new commander of U.S. Pacific naval forces, Adm. Philip Davidson, told a Senate committee in April that China had nearly completed military bases on its reclaimed South China Sea islands. “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” he said.

The Pacific Command and China’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment.



300 miles

300 km

Paracel Islands


Controlled by China,

claimed by Vietnam

and Taiwan




Scarborough Shoal†







Spratly Islands

Gulf of


Claimed wholly or in part

by Brunei, China, Malaysia,

Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam









Notes: Different countries refer to the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands by different names. China defines its claim as all waters within a ‘nine-dash’ line, based on a map issued by the Kuomintang government in 1947, but has never published coordinates for its precise location.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies (claim boundaries)

The international community has repeatedly called on China to refrain from militarization of the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy regularly challenges Chinese claims by sailing close to the disputed islands or flying over them. In 2016, the Philippines won an international arbitration that effectively invalidated Chinese claims to the sea, a ruling that China rejected.

The H-6K long-range strategic bomber deployed to Woody Island has a range that covers almost the entire South China Sea and many countries surrounding it, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a unit of the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The bomber’s deployment is an indication of China’s progress in outfitting the islands it has built up, said Zhu Feng, executive director of Nanjing University’s China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea.

“It’s a test of how capable the facility is,” he said.

Security analysts say the deployments on Woody Island are a blueprint for the Spratly Islands, where China’s claims are disputed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines, and which it occupied and developed more recently than the Paracels. China already has built large aircraft hangars there but hasn’t deployed military fighters or bombers.

The antiship missile deployments, reported early this month by CNBC, were the first in the Spratlys. When asked about the move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the relevant deployment targets no one,” adding that “the deployment of necessary national defense facilities are meant to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security.”

Some claimants that depend on the South China Sea for trade and fishing have raised concerns about the unrelenting militarization. Vietnam this month called on China to withdraw military equipment and requested that Beijing “shows its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability.”

Other countries including the Philippines haven’t pressed their claims, arguing that they are unable to stand up to China’s military might. Foreign ministry officials in the Philippines and Vietnam didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“If the international community cannot get its act together, sooner or later we are going to see China get de facto control of a very important maritime highway,” said William Choong, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

Write to Jake Maxwell Watts at and Eva Dou at


China Rejects U.S. Target for Narrowing Trade Gap

Beijing officials offer to step up purchases, but refuse to commit to Trump administration’s specific $200 billion cut from bilateral deficit

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’ PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A last-ditch effort by the Trump administration failed to get China to accept its demand for a $200 billion cut in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit, as Chinese officials resisted committing to any specific targets after two days of contentious negotiations.

The two days of deliberations in Washington ended with both sides arguing all night on Friday over what to say in a joint statement, people briefed on the matter said. The Chinese had come willing to step up purchases of U.S. merchandise as a measure to narrow China’s $375 billion trade advantage. But U.S. negotiators pushed the Chinese delegates to approve a specific target of $200 billion in additional Chinese purchases. The Chinese refused any such target in specific dollar amounts, and the matter is now in the hands of President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, the people said.

The two sides released a joint statement shortly after the Chinese delegation was scheduled to return home, but it made no reference to the specific purchasing amounts that the U.S. had wanted.

“Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports,” the statement said, adding that “the delegations also discussed expanding trade in manufactured goods and services. There was consensus on the need to create favorable conditions to increase trade in these areas.”

Chinese officials were wary of appearing to make concessions to Washington, and insisted the statement note that any Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services are intended to “meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people.”

China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum.
China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum. PHOTO: SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Beijing negotiators had come to Washington to settle a feud resulting from the Trump administration’s impatience with China’s large trade advantage. The U.S. side is also frustrated over allegations China pressures U.S. firms to transfer advanced technology and steals U.S. intellectual property. Washington has demanded China address these issues, under threat of U.S. tariffs on as much as $150 billion in Chinese goods. Should the U.S. make good on those threats, Beijing has promised to respond with its own tariffs on U.S. imports.

The procedural steps toward implementing the first tranche of threatened U.S. tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports could be completed by as early as next week, but in the joint statement, the two sides agreed to continue talking.

Souring the mood among Chinese officials were some U.S. media reports that China had accepted a U.S. request that Beijing slash its vast merchandise trade surplus by $200 billion, an amount that would cut by more than half the U.S. trade deficit with China. The Chinese side saw those reports as a last-minute effort by Trump administration officials to pressure Beijing into a public agreement that would meet U.S. objectives.

Early Friday, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, had told reporters that China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by “at least $200 billion.” Mr. Kudlow also said “they are meeting many of our demands. There is no deal yet, to be sure.”

While Beijing has been wary of committing to numerical targets of specific purchase amounts, it has in general offered to buy more U.S.-made autos, energy and agricultural products as a way to ease the trade tensions between the two nations that have rattled global financial and commodities markets.

The Chinese delegation was headed by Vice Premier Liu He, who impressed Washington officials, Mr. Kudlow said in a Friday interview with White House reporters, adding Mr. Liu is a “smart guy, a market guy.”

One of Washington’s central demands is that China reduce its merchandise trade surplus by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020, even though economists in both nations say the trade deficit is affected by investment and savings patterns in both nations—not trade policy. Beijing has rejected most U.S. demands in the past and has continued to hold firm.

The U.S. Agriculture Department recently asked agriculture companies to come up with a list of products whose production could be ramped up rapidly for export to China, a person following the talks said. At the same time, China put together a list of high-tech products that are barred by U.S. export controls for sale to China but are allowed by other nations.

Beijing argues that if the U.S. would ease the export controls on these items, it would purchase more from the U.S., the person briefed on the matters said. Even so, some U.S. officials believe, the additional Chinese purchases would only total $50 billion to $60 billion in the next year or two, far short of the U.S. goal.

One Chinese request is for a reprieve on China’s ZTE Corp. from crippling U.S. sanctionsover its trade with Iran and North Korea. Mr. Trump said early last week that he would work with Mr. Xi to get the telecommunications-equipment maker “back into business,” defending such a move as part of a trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with China.

However, “there is no firm agreement on ZTE as of yet,” a person familiar with the discussions said. U.S. lawmakers from both parties have criticized any effort to ease restrictions on the company, calling ZTE a security threat, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) tweeting on Saturday: “If we don’t wake up & start treating this as a national security issue, China is going to win again.”

Settling the trade fight is taking on a degree of urgency as the tensions start hurting businesses in both countries. U.S. goods, including sorghum, soybeans and cars, have faced growing hurdles when entering China, while a U.S. order banning American companies from selling components to ZTE not only threatens the survival of the company but also that of other state-owned Chinese companies.

Responding to Mr. Trump’s promise of a reprieve for ZTE, Beijing has made a number of conciliatory gestures. China’s antitrust regulators had delayed for months U.S. private-equity firm Bain Capital’s $18 billion deal for Toshiba Corp.’s memory-chip unit, but on Thursday, the Japanese firm said regulators had allowed the deal to proceed. Chinese regulators also promised this week to restart their review of U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc.’s bid for NXP Semiconductors NV.

China has also offered to hold back penalties on a variety of U.S. agricultural products it announced in early April as retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum exports. China is a top buyer of U.S. farm products. On Friday, China’s Commerce Ministry announced an end of its antidumping investigation into imported U.S. sorghum.

Write to Bob Davis at and Lingling Wei at

U.S. Scrapped Training Exercise With South Korea Involving B-52s

South Korea expressed concern in advance of U.S.-North Korea summit, officials say

A South Korean soldier walks past a television screen in Seoul showing pictures of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in March.
A South Korean soldier walks past a television screen in Seoul showing pictures of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in March. PHOTO: JUNG YEON-JE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A training exercise involving U.S. B-52 bombers and South Korean planes was scrapped earlier this week after the South Korean government expressed concerns that it could generate tensions before the summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to U.S. officials.

The move follows repeated assertions by the Trump administration that it is keeping up a campaign of maximum economic and military pressure until North Korea gives up its nuclear-weapons programs and that the U.S. has not changed the scope of its exercises.

Behind the Scenes of North Korean Diplomacy

Top diplomats and government officials discuss risks, hopes and the future of North Korean relations at the WSJ CEO Council in Tokyo ahead of the planned Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.

But the South Koreans asked not to participate in what was intended to be a three-nation air drill involving the U.S., South Korea and Japan, the U.S. officials said. The U.S., which has sought to maintain political solidarity with Seoul during a turbulent period of diplomacy with North Korea, has not commented publicly on the South Korean decision.

“The B-52s are currently executing their continuous bomber presence mission in the theater, which sometimes includes joint or allied interactions,” said an official at the U.S. Pacific Command, without providing further details.

South Korea’s government has been of two minds about the deployment of U.S. bombers and submarines near the Korean Peninsula.

After North Korea conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests last year, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said at a Pentagon press conference in October that he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had agreed that U.S. “strategic assets” should be deployed on a rotating basis to South Korea.

But as South Korean President Moon Jae-in has tried to improve ties with North Korea, his government has been concerned about the timing of such deployments.

Mr. Moon’s administration also has been concerned about the visibility of annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and has played down arms purchases from the U.S. Earlier this year, it requested that the U.S. delay this year’s joint spring exercises, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, until after the Winter Olympics. The U.S. agreed to the request, but the exercises went ahead later.

The initial plan for the three-nation air drill was for two U.S. B-52s to fly from Guam and participate in training with the Japanese and South Korean air forces, the U.S. officials said. Because of lingering tensions between Japan and South Korea, the U.S. bombers were to train separately with each nation’s air force before returning to base.

The B-52s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and the U.S. has occasionally used the bomber as a show of force. After North Korea announced it had tested a hydrogen bomb in January 2016, a B-52, flanked by a U.S. F-16 and a South Korean F-15, conducted a low-level flight over South Korea.

The main purpose this time, however, was training, including enabling the South Korean Air Force to practice intercepting bombers. To avoid a diplomatic provocation with a summit coming up, the B-52s were to have made “minimal entry” into South Korean airspace, U.S. officials said. The training mission was dubbed Blue Lightning.

But the South Korean government was concerned about upsetting the atmosphere for the summit and told the U.S. it did not want to participate in the exercise with the bombers, the officials said. After Mr. Song met earlier this week with Gen. Vincent Brooks, the U.S. commander in Korea, the B-52 training mission was adjusted to avoid South Korean airspace and to involve only the Japanese, these officials said.

On Thursday, Lt. Col. Megan A. Schafer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force command for the Pacific, said that two B-52 bombers had carried out a routine training mission with Japanese F-2 aircraft near Okinawa and returned to Guam in recent days.

Neither the South Korean Defense Ministry nor the Pentagon have commented on Seoul’s decision to drop out of the training mission with the B-52s, which was supposed to take place at the same time as a separate air exercise in South Korea, dubbed Max Thunder.

An annual drill that in past years has involved about 100 U.S. and South Korean planes, Max Thunder includes U.S. F-22s, one of the most sophisticated U.S. fighters. But B-52s were never intended to be part of the Max Thunder exercise, which is currently under way.

After reports appeared in the South Korea media that U.S. B-52s no longer would be flying near South Korea, a spokeswoman for Seoul’s Defense Ministry said that the bombers weren’t needed for Max Thunder and did not mention the canceled Blue Lightning training mission.

“The Max Thunder exercise is carried out to train fighter pilots. Hence, the B-52s are not included,” the spokeswoman said at a regular briefing. “I cannot comment on decisions made by the U.S.,” she added when asked if Seoul had ever requested the U.S. not send B-52 bombers near the Korean Peninsula.

The B-52 training mission was not the first time the U.S. had made adjustments to address the political sensitivities of its South Korean ally. Earlier this year, the U.S. canceled a planned February port visit to South Korea by an attack submarine, the U.S.S. Texas, to reassure Seoul that Washington wouldn’t upset the atmosphere for inter-Korean detente.

North Korea has sent mixed messages on joint U.S. and South Korean training. After a meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon earlier this year, South Korean officials told the Trump administration that the North Korean leader understood the need for joint U.S. and South Korean exercises.

But in recent days North Korea has complained emphatically that major military exercises like Max Thunder have gone ahead.

On Thursday, Ri Son Gwon, a senior North Korean official, threatened to shelve inter-Korean talks because of the exercise.

“On this opportunity, the present South Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” Mr. Ri said.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at and Nancy A. Youssef at


Trump promises North Korea ‘protections’ in a nuclear deal, distances himself from key advisor

Trump promises North Korea 'protections' in a nuclear deal, distances himself from key advisor
John Bolton, national security advisor, center, listens as President Trump comments on North Korea and China trade during a photo session Thursday in the Oval Office. (Pool / Getty Images)


President Trump disavowed a controversial remark made by his national security advisor, John Bolton, as he appeared increasingly eager Thursday to preserve a historic one-on-one meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month.

Bolton had spooked North Koreans recently by suggesting Pyongyang follow the path taken by Libya more than a decade ago, when that country abandoned its effort to build nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits and warmer relations. Within a few years, Libya’s leader, Moammar Kadafi, lost his job and his life at the hands of Western-backed rebels.

The North Koreans threatened this week to back out of the summit, citing Bolton by name as they accused the U.S. of making unreasonable demands for rapid abandonment of their nuclear program.

“The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all,” Trump told reporters during a photo session with the visiting secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jens Stoltenberg. “We decimated that country.”

By contrast, Trump promised that if the United States reaches a deal with North Korea, Kim would “be running his country. His country would be very rich.”

The president also vowed that Kim would “get protections that will be very strong,” a sharp departure from the fiery rhetoric Trump used just months ago against the isolated despot and a promise that would appear to go far beyond what previous administrations have offered the communist dictatorship. Previous administrations have offered economic incentives and pledges not to take hostile action against the North Koreans, but have not said they would affirmatively protect the North.

Trump also implied Thursday that China’s President Xi Jinping may be trying to influence the North Koreans to take a harder line with the U.S., perhaps in response to U.S. pressure on trade.

Trump’s efforts to soothe Pyongyang could prevent Kim from following through on the threat to call off the summit. But his words highlighted his eagerness to get a deal — an emotion that even some of Trump’s aides fear could lead him to give up too much at the negotiating table.

His disavowal of Bolton’s remark could also undermine Trump’s ability to present a unified front for his administration as he prepares to face off with a country that for decades has defied international laws and scuttled American efforts to rein in its nuclear program. Americans who have negotiated with Kim and his father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled before him, say the country’s authoritarian leadership has a history of trickery and dishonest dealing.

“When the president openly disagrees with his national security advisor about the objective of talks, that’s going to encourage North Korean mischief, and it’s going to discourage allies who depend on the United States to be steady,” said Michael J. Green, who served as senior Asia advisor to President George W. Bush during a prior effort to negotiate with North Korea. Those talks also included South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

“It appears he’s going with his gut, but when the stakes are this high, that can have real consequences if played wrong,” Green added.

John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., said Trump was making clear to North Korea that he is focused on the deal above all else. The North Koreans, as they threatened to withdraw this week, also said they felt misled about the extent of joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises. By laying out their concerns in public without actually withdrawing, they were intentionally leaving Trump a way to preserve the summit, Park said.

“The way that things are playing out right now, the choice for the president is Bolton or the summit,” Park said. “The early signs are that he’s prioritizing the summit,” he said, adding that he did not think Bolton would actually lose his job.

During the impromptu question-and-answer session, Trump returned twice to China’s role, saying the North Koreans began making more provocative statements shortly after a recent meeting between Kim and Xi, the second between the two. China is North Korea’s most important political and economic ally.

“There has been a big difference since they had the second meeting,” Trump said.

“President Xi could be influencing Kim Jong Un,” Trump added, noting the disputes between the U.S. and China over trade, which are the subject of meetings this week between U.S. and Chinese officials.

But experts in the region say that China — even as it is frustrated with Trump’s trade demands — generally supports U.S. efforts to broker peace with North Korea, especially if a deal includes a reduction of American troops in the region.

Trump added that U.S. and North Korean diplomats continue to meet to plan for the summit.

“Nothing has changed on North Korea that we know of,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. If the meeting happens, it happens.” If not, “we go on to the next step.”

The State Department also insisted Thursday that preparations were continuing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has met twice with Kim, has been on the telephone this week with South Korean officials to assure them that the meeting is still on track. “We always knew there would be twists and turns,” a senior State Department official said.

During his first year in office, Trump had dismissed diplomacy with Kim as a waste of time, taunting the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to overwhelm North Korea with “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States militarily. But Trump’s tone changed in March after he accepted an invitation, issued via South Korea, to meet one-on-one with Kim in a first-of-its kind summit.

Since then, Trump has called Kim “honorable,” praised him for releasing three American prisoners last week and spoken hopefully about the potential for peace.

But the two sides remain far apart on their objectives for the meeting. Trump has insisted North Korea dismantle its entire nuclear program, giving up a weapons effort that the Kim dynasty has spent decades and huge amounts of money to secure. Most experts in the region believe the country would be extremely unlikely to take that step. It’s unclear whether Trump would ultimately accept something short of that.

“The North Koreans, this is typical bluster on this side, typical muscle flexing,” said Bill Richardson, a former congressman and United Nations ambassador and one of the few Americans to negotiate directly with Kim Jong Il. “They felt they had been cornered on the denuclearization issue, and they want to defuse that.”

Richardson said he believes that Trump sent a positive signal to North Korea and that Bolton was out of line with the Libya comparison. But as the summit approaches, Richardson said that Trump should designate Pompeo, the only official in the administration who has met with Kim, as the administration’s sole spokesman.

“They’re devious, they’re unpredictable, they’re flexing muscles,” he said of North Korea. “But I think in the end the summit will happen because both sides need it badly.”

Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.

Twitter: @noahbierman


North Korea does not want to be like East Germany

Pyongyang’s threat that it is ready to call of the planned meeting between North Korea’s leader and the US President is a reality check for the Trump administration — especially for Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.


Graffiti - First Germany, now Korea as well (picture alliance/akg-images/G. Schaefer)Graffiti from 1989 – First Germany, now Korea

Should Washington take North Korea’s threat seriously?

Washington and Pyongyang’s bluffs, posturing and brinkmanship in the run-up to the highly expected summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should be expected. Similarly, North Korea’s history of sudden diplomatic maneuvers, for instance when it canceled a secretly planned meeting between US Vice President Mike Pence and Pyongyang officials during this year’s Winter Olympics at the last minute, is also well established.

That means that Washington, for now, need not panic about the upcoming summit, but it also should not regard Pyongyang’s threat to walk away from the meeting as mere bluff. North Korea had called off a planned meeting with South Korea in protest over joint US-South Korean military exercises, which Pyongyang considered an aggressive gesture.

Read more: Why the Iran nuclear deal’s collapse is a disaster for North Korea

“I expected them to object and perhaps if the United States does not satisfy their demands, this summit meeting can be aborted”, Han Park, a former unofficial US-North Korean negotiator who secured the release of two detained American journalists in 2009, and facilitated the 1994 Pyongyang visit of former US President Jimmy Carter told DW.

“It’s not a complete surprise that North Korea would respond to these exercises by demonstrating to Trump that these negotiations are going to be a complex process and the United States should not take North Korea’s participation for granted”, concurred Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

She suggested that Washington, during ongoing negotiations, consider de-emphasizing elements of the joint exercise that North Korea views as most provocative. According to a South Korean media report, US nuclear-capable strategic bombers, which had originally been scheduled to participate, will now not take part in the exercises.

North Korea’s threat to cancel the meeting can also be understood as a response to President Trump who has repeatedly described himself as savvy negotiator. Just recently he lashed out against former top US diplomat John Kerry for refusing to walk away from negotiations during the Iran nuclear agreement talks. Kerry’s unwillingness to walk away from the talks, according to Trump, ultimately led to an agreement which the president has labeled the “worst deal” in history – one which he just recently pulled the US out of.

Read more: South Korea’s self-appointed ‘patriots’ protest against rapprochement with North

With its threat to scrap the leadership summit, Kim, in a way, has now one-upped Trump, by stating that he might not just away from a bad deal, but that is ready to not even show up for a meeting that does not meet his conditions. Having said that, both Trump and Kim have an avid interest in making the historic meeting become a reality, if only to play to their respective domestic audiences.

Nordkorea Missile Tests (Getty Images/AFP/E. Jones)North Korea said it is ready for denuclearization

What should the Trump administration glean from Pyongyang’s comments?   

“We have to have a realistic assessment of North Korea in terms of their desires and plans”, said Han Park, the former unofficial US-North Korean negotiator who visited North Korea more than 50 times. A coherent plan or a long-term strategy to deal with Pyongyang beyond the Trump’s administration mantra of denuclearization remains absent, added Park:

“Sure, Trump would like denuclearization, but North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear aspirations and to have military defense capability against the United States. They are not going to give up that capability without assurance of peace. And we have not discussed what we can give North Korea for peace and denuclearization.”

If the Trump administration is serious about negotiations about denuclearization, it must address Pyongyang’s security concerns, said Davenport. “It views the US military presence in the region as a threat and Washington is going to need to reduce that threat if it wants North Korea to take meaningful steps to halt and reverse its nuclear weapons program.”

In preparation for the summit, the US, especially the president himself, need to understand that there is a price to pay for steps toward North Korean nuclear disarmament, the experts said. The US also needs to be aware that such an effort will take time and cannot be achieved in one high profile setting, between Trump and Kim.

“At best it is the start of something, at worst it is one demonstrative, symbolic gesture, especially on the part of Trump”, said Park.

Instead of focusing too much on this one event, Washington, said Davenport, should concentrate on “denuclearization as a long-term goal that recognizes that in the interim steps that reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and that reduce North Korea’s capacity to expand its arsenal can still be meaningful and benefit US national security.

UN USA Botschafter John Bolten tritt zurück George Bush (AP)John Bolton played a controversial role during the George W. Bush administration

Why was John Bolton singled out by North Korea?

In a statement, former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan attacked President Trump’s new National Security Advisor John Bolton, stating that: “We do not hide our feeling of repugnance toward him”. Kim took issue with Bolton — a hardliner who has a history of advocating for US preventative military action in countries like Iraq, Iran and North Korea — suggesting recently Libya’s nuclear disarmament as a model for North Korea.

That comparison, understandably, did not go down well in Pyongyang, because less than ten year’s after Libya ended its nuclear activities, the country’s leader was toppled and killed after an outside military intervention that included the US.

What Kim’s missive did not mention explicitly but what is probably an even better explanation for North Korea’s hostility towards Bolton is his past role in nixing a nuclear deal that a previous US administration had reached with Pyongyang — just as he did recently with the Iran deal.

“North Korea has legitimate reason to distrust John Bolton”, said Davenport. “John Bolton was instrumental in killing the negotiated agreement between the United States and North Korea when Bush succeeded Clinton as president.”

Like the later Iran nuclear accord, the so-called Agreed Framework, signed in 1994 by Bill Clinton was extremely controversial and never ratified by Congress. President Bush’s description of North Korea as being part of the so-called axis of evil marked the de-facto end of the agreement.

Former US-North Korea negotiator Park, who knows Bolton personally, thinks Trump’s National Security Advisor holds an anachronistic view on global affairs. “He is basically a militarist. He thinks things will be taken care of through military means. But that time is gone. We cannot use military means against North Korea.”

But Park also offered some advice for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently said that if Pyongyang took “bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends.”

“When Pompeo suggests that North Korea can be assisted by the US to become like South Korea – that’s not what they want. They don’t want to be a small South Korea. They want the money, but not through capitalist, private ownership means whatsoever. They don’t want to be like East Germany.”



North Korea says may reconsider summit with Trump, suspends talks with South

By Christine Kim and Josh Smith


N. Korea suspends talks with South over military drills
N. Korea suspends talks with South over military drills
Reuters Videos

Scroll back up to restore default view.

By Christine Kim and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threw next month’s unprecedented summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump into doubt on Wednesday, threatening weeks of diplomatic progress by saying it may reconsider if Washington insists on unilateral denuclearization.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said earlier on Wednesday Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul in the first sign of trouble in what had been warming ties.

Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, KCNA later said the fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if Washington spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearization for the North.

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim Kye Gwan said, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We have already stated our intention for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” he said.

The statements, combined with joint military drills by South Korean and U.S. warplanes, mark a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months when both sides embraced efforts to negotiate.

North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week. Trump and Kim are scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 12.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States would agree to lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan’s statement appeared to reject such an arrangement, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for economic trade with the United States.

Asian stock markets dipped on Wednesday after Pyongyang called off the talks with the South that were set for Wednesday. A cancellation of the June 12 summit in Singapore could see tensions on the Korean peninsula flare again even as investors worry about China-U.S. trade friction.

“This will weigh on the Korean reconstruction beneficiaries that have had a strong run on peace and even reunification hopes recently,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note.

South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke to Pompeo by telephone earlier on Wednesday and discussed North Korea’s postponement of the talks with the South, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo told Kang that Washington would continue to make preparations for the U.S-North Korea summit, bearing in mind the recent action by North Korea, it said.

Kim Kye Gwan’s statement came only hours after North Korea denounced the U.S.-South Korean military exercises as a provocation and pulled out of the talks with the South scheduled for Wednesday.

An earlier KCNA report angrily attacked the “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters and B-52 bombers.


Any cancellation of the June 12 summit in Singapore, the first meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader, would deal a major blow to what would be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

Trump has raised expectations for a successful meeting even as many analysts have been skeptical about the chances of bridging the gap due to questions about North Korea’s willingness to give up a nuclear arsenal that it says can hit the United States.

Kim Kye Gwan singled out comments by Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, who has suggested a so-called Libya model under which North Korea would quickly hand over its nuclear arsenal to the United States or other countries.

“(The) World knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” Kim Kye Gwan said. “It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”

Kim Jong Un’s latest move could be aimed at testing Trump’s willingness to make concessions ahead of the summit, which is to be preceded by a visit to Washington next week by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A U.S. government expert on North Korea said Kim may also be trying to gauge whether Trump is willing to walk away from the meeting.

Joshua Pollack, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said Pyongyang appeared irritated by the U.S. administration’s vow to maintain sanctions in spite of North Korean concessions.

“The North Koreans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hearing one,” he said.

The doubt thrown over the Kim-Trump summit comes a week after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.

The “Max Thunder” drills would go on as planned and were not aimed at attacking a third party, the South’s defence ministry said. KCNA called the air drills a “provocation” that went against the trend of warming ties.

“Kim Jong Un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

KCNA said North Korea was suspending Wednesday’s ministerial-level meeting, which was to focus on plans to implement the inter-Korea summit declaration, including promises to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearization”.

South Korea described the North’s decision as “regrettable”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Christine Kim in SEOUL, and David Brunnstrom, Phillip Stewart, Tim Ahmann, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait)


North Korea Starts to Dismantle Nuclear-Test Site

Buildings have been removed, latest satellite images show, ahead of planned May 23-25 destruction

A satellite image captured Monday, indicating where buildings have been removed or are being removed at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear-test site.
A satellite image captured Monday, indicating where buildings have been removed or are being removed at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear-test site. PHOTO: PLANET LABS

SEOUL—North Korea has begun to remove buildings from around its nuclear-test site in a step toward dismantling the facility, new satellite imagery shows, as the regime seeks to build trust with the U.S. after declaring its nuclear arsenal complete.

Roughly a week before the Punggye-ri site is set to host international journalists, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc., captured Monday, showed buildings gone and trucks working in the vicinity.

Pyongyang appears to be “sanitizing” the site, at the foot of Mount Mantap in the country’s northeast, to protect secrets before journalists arrive, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif.

Monday’s images show structures gone from the entrances to the main test tunnel and a new tunnel to the west, and another structure to the south being taken down, said David Schmerler, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute and colleague of Mr. Lewis.

Destroying the site could serve as a visible sign of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s denuclearization pledge—and help maintain a detente on the peninsula ahead of talks with President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Pyongyang last week to meet Mr. Kim, said Sunday that the U.S. is asking for “complete and total denuclearization of North Korea.”

“Total, full, complete,” he said.

A “huge gap” divides the U.S. and North Korea on a denuclearization deal, but it can be bridged if Pyongyang shows it is serious by handing over some of its nuclear and missile arsenal, said Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Mr. Kim said last month ahead of his summit meeting with Mr. Moon that “the mission of the northern nuclear test ground has…come to an end,” eliminating the need for further tests. North Korea would dismantle the site to show it is committed to disarmament, the North’s state media said.

Behind the Scenes of North Korean Diplomacy

Top diplomats and government officials discuss risks, hopes and the future of North Korean relations at the WSJ CEO Council in Tokyo ahead of the planned Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.

Denuclearization: Trump-Kim Summit Hinges on Finding a Common Definition

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both say they want denuclearization, but they may have different definitions of the word. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains.

Over the weekend, North Korea said that it would close the facility between May 23 and 25—collapsing tunnels, blocking entrances and removing observation facilities.

During his April 27 summit with Mr. Moon, Mr. Kim said that he would consider inviting experts and journalists from the U.S. and South Korea to demonstrate the closure, according to a spokesman for the South’s presidential office.

While invitations have been extended to journalists, the absence of any mention of Western nuclear experts in the North’s weekend announcement raised concerns. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization said it hasn’t been asked to participate in the verification. A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency declined to comment on whether it had been invited, but said that it “stands ready to contribute” and would continue to monitor the North Korean nuclear program, “including through the use of satellite imagery.”

In recent weeks, there has been a debate over whether the test site is still usable following the sixth test there, in September. A team of international scientists published a study in Science magazine last week saying that a large part of the site had caved in after that explosion.

Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon during the summit that the test site is still usable, as international monitors would see when they visited.

Mr. Lewis predicted the North would follow the example of countries like France, which removed sensitive equipment from nuclear-enrichment facilities before inviting outsiders to view the empty buildings.

Closing the Punggye-ri underground test site, while welcome, is not sufficient.

—David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security

“That explosion should make for good television,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Lewis expressed reason for caution. For instance, North Korea could probably reopen those tunnels—though satellites might detect that—or dig news ones elsewhere. Still, he said, it seems clear from the North’s announcements that the regime feels no need for further nuclear tests.

In 2008, two years after its first nuclear test, North Korea blew up a cooling tower at its nuclear-enrichment facility at Yongbyon for international TV crews, though it then conducted five further nuclear tests over the next decade.

Steps beyond dismantling Punggye-ri will be needed to demonstrate a bona fide commitment to denuclearize, said David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“Closing the Punggye-ri underground test site, while welcome, is not sufficient,” Mr. Albright said.

Separate satellite images from DigitalGlobe—published on Monday by 38 North, a website dedicated to North Korea issues—showed that as of May 7, no tunnel entrances appeared to have been permanently closed, and two of the largest buildings appeared to be intact.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at