Pressure grows on China to rein in North Korea; South launches propaganda barrage

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – South Korea unleashed an ear-splitting propaganda barrage across its border with North Korea on Friday in retaliation for its nuclear test, while the United States called on China to end “business as usual” with its ally.

The broadcasts, in rolling bursts from walls of loudspeakers at 11 locations along the heavily militarized border, blared rhetoric critical of the Pyongyang regime as well as “K-pop” music. North Korea later responded with its own broadcasts.

Wednesday’s nuclear test angered both the United States and China, which was not given prior notice, although the U.S. government and weapons experts doubt Pyongyang’s claim that the device it set off was a hydrogen bomb.

China is North Korea’s main economic and diplomatic backer, although relations between the Cold War allies have cooled in recent years.

China’s Foreign Ministry urged North Korea to stick to its denuclearization pledges and avoid action that would make the situation worse, but also said China did not hold the key to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

“Achieving denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and safeguarding the peninsula’s peace and stability accords with all parties’ mutual interests, is the responsibility of all parties, and requires all parties to put forth efforts,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing.

The North agreed to end its nuclear program in international negotiations in 2005 but later walked away from the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that he had told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China’s approach to North Korea had not succeeded.


“China had a particular approach that it wanted to make, that we agreed and respected to give them space to implement that,” Kerry told reporters after the phone call. “Today, in my conversation with the Chinese, I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual.”

In a call on Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, Wang said talks on the issue should be resumed as soon as possible, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

South Korea’s nuclear safety agency said it had found a minuscule amount of xenon gas in a sample from off its east coast but said more analysis and samples were needed to determine if it came from a nuclear test.

The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which uses monitoring stations around the world to detect atomic tests, said only “normal” levels of xenon had been detected, at a site in Japan.

“Xenon readings at 1st station downwind of #DPRK test site RN38 Takasaki #Japan at normal concentrations. Sampling continues,” the CTBTO’s executive secretary, Lassina Zerbo, said on Twitter on Friday evening.

The presence of xenon would not indicate whether the blast was from a hydrogen device or a simpler fission explosion.

Seismic waves created by the blast were almost identical to those generated in North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2013, Jeffrey Park, a seismologist at Yale University, wrote in a post on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website, adding to scepticism about the hydrogen bomb claim.

Meanwhile, South Korea resumed its frontier broadcasts, which the isolated North has in the past threatened to stop with military strikes.

The last time South Korea deployed the loudspeakers, in retaliation for a landmine blast in August that wounded two South Korean soldiers, it led to an exchange of artillery fire.

The sound can carry 10 km (6 miles) into North Korea during the day and more than twice that at night, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.


A male announcer could be heard from South Korea telling North Koreans that their leader Kim Jong Un and his wife wear clothes costing thousands of dollars. Another message said Kim’s promises to boost both the economy and the nuclear program were unrealistic.

The North’s broadcasts were not clearly audible from the South and appeared intended to drown out those from the South, Yonhap said, citing a South Korean official.

As North Korea boosted troop deployments in front-line units, the South vowed to retaliate against any attack on its equipment, raised its military readiness to the highest level near the loudspeakers, canceled tours of the Demilitarized Zone on the border, and also raised its cyberattack alert level.

In Washington, the North’s actions appeared to have forged rare unity in the House of Representatives between Republicans and Democrats on tightening sanctions against North Korea.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, told reporters that Democrats would support a North Korea bill likely to be brought for a vote by Republicans next week. A congressional source said it was expected as soon as Monday.

But it is unclear how more sanctions will deter North Korea, which has conducted four nuclear tests since 2006.

The United States and South Korea are limited in their military options. Washington sent a pair of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea in a show of force after North Korea last tested a nuclear device in 2013.

North Korea responded then by threatening a nuclear strike on the United States.

A South Korean military official said Seoul and Washington had discussed the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons on the Korean peninsula, but declined to give details. Media said the assets could include B-2 and B-52 bombers, and a nuclear-powered submarine.

(Additional reporting by James Pearson, Se Young Lee, Christine Kim, Jee Heun Kahng, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim in SEOUL, Dagyum Ji in GIMPO, Patricia Zengerle, Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON, Tim Kelly in YOKOSUKA and Francois Murphy in VIENNA; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Paul Tait and Kevin Liffey)