SEOUL – South Korea’s president on Wednesday urged North Korea’s only major ally, China, to help punish Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test with the strongest possible international sanctions.
Park Geun-hye’s comments came as Seoul said North Korea had sent leaflets across the border describing her and her government as “mad dogs” as Cold War-style propaganda warfare between the rivals deepened.
South Korea, the United States and others are pushing hard to impose fresh sanctions and other punitive measures on the North for what Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb test one week ago.
There is widespread skepticism over the H-bomb claim, but whatever the North detonated underground will likely push the country closer toward a fully functional nuclear arsenal, which it still is thought not to have.
On Wednesday, Park said in a nationally televised news conference that South Korea will push as hard as it can for “the strongest” sanctions that can force change in North Korea.
Diplomats at a U.N. Security Council emergency session last week pledged to swiftly pursue new sanctions. For current sanctions and any new penalties to work, better cooperation and stronger implementation from China, the North’s diplomatic and economic protector and a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, is seen as key.
“Holding the hands of someone in a difficult situation is the mark of the best partner,” Park said, referring to China and South Korea’s need to punish the North. “I trust China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, will play a necessary role.”
Beijing has recently shown signs that it is losing patience with North Korea over its repeated provocation. But China is still seen as reluctant to clamp down on the North, in part because of fears that a toppled government in Pyongyang would see millions of desperate North Koreans flooding across the border with China and a U.S.-backed South Korean government in control of the Korean Peninsula.
Responding to the North’s test, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged China to end “business as usual” with North Korea. But in a telephone conversation with his South Korean counterpart Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made it clear that Beijing supports dialogue to resolve the nuclear standoff. His reported remarks sparked speculation in Seoul that China has no intention of joining in any harsh punishment on the North.
In a show of strength on Sunday, a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber — flanked by South Korean F-15 fighter jets and U.S. F-16 planes — flew over Osan Air Base, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of the inter-Korean border.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan — currently based in Japan — as well as B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 stealth fighter jets are understood to be among the additional deployments being considered.
Top nuclear envoys from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan were set to meet later Wednesday in Seoul to discuss sanctions against the North. On Thursday, the South Korean nuclear envoy is to fly to Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
In the wake of the nuclear test, the two Koreas have settled into a Cold War-era standoff. Since Friday, South Korea has been blasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda and pop songs from huge speakers along the border, and the North is using speakers of its own in an attempt to keep its soldiers from hearing the South Korean messages.
Park said South Korea will continue its loudspeaker campaign, calling it “the surest and most effective psychological warfare tool.”
Park said past broadcasts helped frontline North Korean soldiers learn the truth about Pyongyang’s authoritarian rule and defect to South Korea. “The most powerful threat to totalitarianism is the power of truth,” she said.
South Korea’s military and police announced Wednesday they have found thousands of anti-South leaflets in Seoul, border towns and other areas. Officials said they believe the leaflets were likely sent over the border attached to balloons by the North’s military.
Similar North Korean propaganda leaflets were discovered on a South Korea border island between late 2013 and early 2014. Such leafleting, however, by the North is still rare, though South Korean activists occasionally send anti-Pyongyang leaflets in balloons across the border.
The leaflets found earlier Wednesday included such messages as “Let’s knock down the Park Geun-hye group like we do mad dogs,” and “The U.S. must immediately stop its anachronistic hostile policy on North Korea.”