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Thursday, July 20, 2006

China can't force change on North Korea: general

Thu, 20 Jul 2006, 01:26

WASHINGTON: China's top military officer said here Wednesday that Beijing is doing all it can to persuade North Korea to reach agreement on its nuclear and missile programs, but cannot force it to change course.

"The DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) is a sovereign state. It has its own assessment of the situation, and its own way of doing business," said General Guo Boxiong after a speech at the National Defense University.

"China cannot possibly force the DPRK to do anything or not to do anything," he said when asked why China did not exert more pressure and influence on North Korea's nuclear program.

"However, bearing in mind the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula as well as the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, China still tries every means in its power to persuade the DPRK," he said.

Guo, vice chairman of China's central military commission, is visiting the United States as part of a US-Chinese effort to expand cooperation between their two militaries.

The visit comes just two weeks after North Korea launched a barrage of seven missiles, including a long range Taepodong-2 missile that the United States said failed in the first minute of flight.

Guo, who is China's most senior military officer, said the North Korean missile launch surprised him and other top Chinese leaders.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he learned of it through media reports quoting US intelligence sources.

"Due to my personal responsibilities in the Chinese military, I immediately gave instructions to my staff officers to employ every means and through every possible channel to find evidence of this test launch by the DPRK, and instructed them to find proof of the launch of the seven missiles," Guo said.

"From DPRK sources, their comments on this launch have been unclear," he said.

He said he did not know what the North Koreans would do next.

Guo defended China's response as appropriate, noting that Beijing supported a UN Security Council resolution that condemned the launch, urged restraint and called for a resumption of long stalled six-party talks.

But he said that realism and clear objectives were needed in dealing with North Korea.

"Either to settle the nuclear program or the missile test launch of the DPRK we need to respect and pay attention to such realities," he said. "As I mentioned earlier the DPRK has its unique assessment of the situation, and its own way of conduct and thinking."

Guo is on a five day visit to the United States that began with a tour of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego, California on Monday.

Tuesday, he met separately with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In his speech to students and faculty at the National Defense University, an elite post-graduate school in Washington for rising military officers, Guo portrayed China's military modernization as a protective shield for its peaceful economic development.

"China shall never seek expansion or hegemony, neither today nor in the future," he said.

Guo was asked how China's quest for energy security would change its military strategy.

The general said he would not discuss "reactive measures," but he acknowledged that high oil prices were eating into military budgets.

"To be frank, this has been a big headache for me recently," he said.
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