World

Pyongyang boosts defences, says it will shoot down US bombers

US denies declaring war on North Korea

SEOUL/BEIJING North Korea appears to have boosted defences on its east coast, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said yesterday, after the North said US President Donald Trump had declared war and that it would shoot down US bombers flying near the peninsula.

Tensions have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept 3, but the rhetoric has reached a new level in recent days with leaders on both sides exchanging threats and insults.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Mr Trump's Twitter comments, in which the US leader said Mr Ri and leader Kim Jong Un "won't be around much longer" if they acted on their threats, amounted to a declaration of war and that Pyongyang had the right to take countermeasures.

Yonhap suggested the reclusive North was in fact bolstering its defences by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures after US bombers flew close to the Korean peninsula at the weekend.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders denied on Monday that the US had declared war, calling the suggestion "absurd".

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said war on the Korean peninsula would have no winner.

"We hope the US and North Korean politicians have sufficient political judgment to realise that resorting to military force will never be a viable way to resolve the peninsula issue and their own concerns," Mr Lu told a daily news briefing.

"We also hope that both sides can realise that being bent on assertiveness and provoking each other will only increase the risk of conflict and reduce room for policy manoeuvres. War on the peninsula will have no winner."

While repeatedly calling for dialogue to resolve the issue, China has also signed up for increasingly tough UN sanctions against North Korea.

During a visit to India, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said diplomatic efforts to deal with the crisis were continuing.

"You have seen unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions passed that have increased the pressure, economic pressure and diplomatic pressure, on the North, and at the same time, we maintain the capability to deter North Korea's most dangerous threats," he told reporters.

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers, escorted by fighter jets, flew east of North Korea in a show of force after a heated exchange of rhetoric between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.

However, the rhetoric has been ratcheted up well beyond normal levels, raising fears that a miscalculation by either side could have massive repercussions.

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended Mr Trump's rhetoric and said on Monday he agreed that the risk was that Mr Kim might fail to realise the danger he and his country faced.

However, Gen McMaster also acknowledged the risks of escalation with any US military option. "We don't think there's an easy military solution to this problem," he said. "There's not a precision strike that solves the problem. There's not a military blockade that can solve the problem."- REUTERS

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